By Dr. Ranil Senanayake
What is known by science reveals the forest as an ecosystem of tremendous complexity. The trees, while providing the essential framework of a forest constitutes only a fraction of the total biodiversity. It contains a huge array of organisms, that continually change in form and function. Thus biodiversity is what gives a forest its identity. It should also be borne in mind that, from the small bushes of an area after a fire to the tall growth fifty years later, the species and architecture goes through many changes, and all these ecosystems are expressions of the growing, maturing forest.
The international response to the loss of natural forest ecosystems can be seen in the massive global investment in forestry. However, a great majority of these revegetation programs around the world do not seem to provide an environment that is hospitable for sustaining local forest biodiversity. A situation brought about by neglect of the ecological and biodiverse reality of a forest in project planning. There is no excuse to be found in the argument that there was no information. Forest Ecology has a long and distinguished history in the scientific literature. The result of this neglect was that institutional forestry activity was centered around the growing of even aged monocultures of fast growing trees with no requirement to attend to the rehabilitation of forests.
The discussions on the sustainable management of forests still lack clear definitions creating a sense of confusion in the identification of goals. For instance, the inability to distinguish between plantations and forests have allowed processes that have led to a massive reduction of forest biodiversity. A clear definition of ‘a Forest’ needs to be clarified and harmonized in statements transmitted from the CBD to the IPF or the CSD. As forests are biological entities, any criteria or indicator chosen to represent biodiversity status must be rooted in biological variables. The current practices of assessing physical cover alone will not adequately indicate forest quality and trends. In this context, socio-cultural values should also be incorporated into the setting of criteria and indicators. Further, for every acre of forest that stands today, hundreds of acres of forest have been lost in the surrounding countryside. Yet there has been no mention of the need for rehabilitation and recovery of the biodiversity status of such degraded lands. If these fundamental issues are not addressed, the loss of forests and biodiversity in these critical ecosystems cannot be contained.