Is sustainable forestry economically possible?

Document Type

Book chapter

Publication details

Pearce, DW, Putz, FE & Vanclay, JK 2002, 'Is sustainable forestry economically possible?', in D Pearce, C Pearce & C Palmer (eds), Valuing the environment in developing countries : case studies, Elgar, Cheltenham, pp. 447-500.


Concern about the rate at which the world's forests are being depleted is wide-spread. Recent international calls for radical efforts to reduce deforestation include the United Nations Inter-governmental Forum on Forests of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, and the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development. This concern reflects an appreciation of the ecological and economic functions of forests: as providers of timber and many non-timber predicts, as the habitat for much of the world's biological diversity, and as regulators of local, regional and global environments. These functions are at risk. Most of the forest clearance is in areas of high forest cover and high human population pressure in tropical areas for agriculture. In temperate and boreal areas the pressures from logging are more important. But in all areas, forestry itself has an important role to play both as a partial cause of deforestation, and, if practiced wisely, as a potential source of salvation for at least some of the world's forests. In terms of its causal role, forestry tends to open up primary forest areas, enabling colonists to move in, using roads forged by the timber companies. In some parts of the world, forests are converted not to agriculture but to biomass plantations of fast growing trees or to other agro-industries based on tree-crop plantations such as palm oil and rubber. Here the primary agent is not the peasant, but the richer elements of local and international society. How, then, can the world's forests be used more wisely? It is this admittedly grand and complex question that we seek to answer in this chapter.