Still no timber without trees


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Some time ago CIFOR surveyed POLEX recipients to find out which publications they thought had influenced forest policies the most. Number two in the list was Poore et al.’s 1988 report No Timber Without Trees, commissioned by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). That study had shown only a tiny share of tropical forests used for timber was managed sustainably.

Now the ITTO has issued a new report called Status of International Forest Management 2005, which looks at what has been achieved since the Poore et al. report was published almost two decades ago. It found major progress, but not as much as one might hope.

Back in 1988 Poore and his colleagues had trouble finding even one million hectares of natural forests that were managed sustainably to produce timber. In contrast, the new report identified at least 25 million hectares that fit the bill.

India and Malaysia alone account for 40% of that. Most of the rest is in Bolivia, Brazil, Congo, Gabon, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, which each have between one and three of the 25 million hectares. Malaysia, Bolivia, Gabon, Brazil, and Guatemala have about 10 million hectares that have been independently certified.

Things have also advanced on other fronts. There is greater consensus these days about which criteria and indicators should be used to assess if a forest is managed sustainably and more information is available about forests in general. Many more forests have management plans and there are a lot more plantations and protected areas.

Still, only 7% of the 352 million hectares of the natural forests that tropical countries have slated to produce timber sustainably are truly being used that way. Many companies with management plans don’t actually follow them and much of the tropical timber on the market comes from illegal sources.

Most media coverage about the new report stressed the negative side and it is not hard to see why. Six years into the new millennium we are still nowhere near achieving the ITTO’s 1990 target of having all tropical timber exports coming from well managed forests by the year 2000. If we want to keep getting timber from natural forests it is more urgent than ever to take better care of the trees.

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Further reading

You can download a free electronic copy of the full report in English or summaries of the report in English, Spanish or French at:

You can also request a free electronic copy of the report in pdf format by writing to Manoel Sobral Filho at:

To send comments or queries to the ITTO you can write their communications unit at:

To send comments or queries to the authors you can write Jurgen Blaser at: and/or Duncan Poore at:

The full reference for the article is: ITTO 2006. Status of Tropical Forest Management 2005. International Tropical Timber Organization, Yokohama, Japan.