International forestry researchers look to future


The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has released a plan of work for 2011-2013, as a part of its 2008-2018 Strategy.

The organisation – established in 1999 – sets out its mission statement as advancing “human well-being, environmental conservation, and equity by conducting research to inform policies and practices that affect forests in developing countries”.

The updated plan provides more details on CIFOR’s six projects, and what outcomes they hope to achieve:

  • Enhancing the role of forests in climate mitigation
  • Enhancing the role of forests in adaptation to climate change
  • Improving livelihoods through smallholder and community forestry
  • Managing trade-offs between conservation and development at landscape scales
  • Managing impacts of globalized trade and investment on forests and forest communities
  • Sustainable management of tropical production forests

The 145-page work plan, Medium term plan for 2011-13, is available as a free-to-download pdf (size: 1.5MB)

Source: Climate-L.org

Date: 25/08/2010

UK elms – ‘not out of the woods yet’


Colin Tudge, the author of The Secret Life of Trees, is invited by the UK’s Telegraph newspaper to give his reaction to efforts to breed a Dutch elm disease-resistant species.

Library image from Take CoverIt’s an interesting read as he gives his reaction to this battle with nature, so here it is:

Could the English elm, so sadly laid low by Dutch elm disease, make a comeback? Paul King, who breeds trees at Raine in Essex, is on the case. Nearly 25 years ago he acquired cuttings from a few mature trees. He has now multiplied the tissues to produce a whole new generation of young elms that seem to be resistant (and are on sale for £120 apiece). Scientists at the Forestry Commission’s research centre in Surrey welcome his initiative – they are on the case, too – but are cautious. Resistance, they point out, is a tricky business.

The English elm, Ulmus procera, is probably not a “true” native – Britain has only 39 “truly” native trees – and was most likely introduced by Neolithic farmers from south-east Europe, via Spain. But it is an honorary citizen, treasured for its usefulness and its looks, favourite of landscape painters, notably of Constable; a tree of open woodland but just as happy in hedgerows where, if it was left alone, it flourished by the tens of millions. In the West Country it was known as “the Wiltshire weed”.

The first sign of trouble came in 1910 when the fungus Ophiostoma ulmi, a distant and degenerate cousin of the truffle, started killing trees in mainland Europe. It acquired its name, Dutch elm disease, in 1921 because it was first properly researched in Holland. It arrived in Britain by 1927 and looked very nasty. Happily, the disease died down by the Forties, after killing 10 to 40 per cent of our elms. Dr Tom Pearce of the Forestry Commission predicted, in 1960, that such a thing should not happen again – unless, he added, “the fungus completely changes its present trend of behaviour”.

Which it duly did. A new, closely related species of Ophiostoma appeared in North America – Ophiostoma novo-ulmi. It arrived in Britain in 1967 on imported logs, and throughout the Seventies and into the Eighties it killed about 25 million out of about 30 million elms, including most of the particular English species, Ulmus procera.

Dutch elm disease has all the biological attributes needed to be thoroughly nasty. It is one of the many “wilt diseases” of trees, which spread through the vessels of the xylem and block them. The spores are carried passively with wonderful efficiency in the sap, through the whole tree, and spread via the roots of separate trees that are often joined underground. The spores don’t live long once the tree has died and so should die out as their host succumbs – but they have a trump card: they are carried from tree to tree and from forest to forest by flying bark beetles of the genus Scolytus.

There is some innate resistance among the world’s many species of elm. The Ophiostoma fungus probably arose in Asia, so the Asian elms have evolved in its presence – and have developed considerable resistance. Breeding programmes are afoot in Europe to introduce genes from Asian species into European types by various means – and may yet succeed. Meanwhile, as Paul King has found, even within susceptible species, such as Ulmus procera, there will usually be some resistant strains. If they can be bred, perhaps we will have a new resistant strain.

So why the caution? Well, for one thing, it depends what the tree is really resistant to: the fungus or its insect vector? Paul King’s new trees are probably not resistant to the fungus itself, but are simply less palatable to the beetle. Of course, the fungus can’t usually infest the tree without the beetles – but it surely would be better to be specifically equipped with genes that would protect it even if beetles did get in.

The sad tale of Britain’s elms parallels that of the American chestnut, Castanea dentata – with some intriguing contrasts. For the American Indians and for the first immigrant Europeans, the American chestnut was a wonder tree. Its nuts were a food staple – and supported 40 million wild turkeys for good measure – and its trunks provided timber. There were so many that a squirrel could travel from chestnut to chestnut from Maine to Georgia without setting foot on the ground, or so the story went.

But the overconfident forestry “improvers” of the 19th century were still not content. They began to import Asian species with bigger nuts, to crossbreed. Inevitably, the newcomers came with their own diseases. And the American chestnuts, beset by novel pathogens, succumbed. By the end of the Twenties, the American chestnut, once perhaps the commonest North American broadleaf, was all but gone.

Again, through too much zeal, the Americans felled great swathes of chestnuts to create a firewall against the spread of infection. This failed to contain the disease – but it did, so some biologists suggest, remove the myriad genetic variations from among the wild trees, which might have included some that would have conferred resistance.

By leaving our own beleaguered elms to live on in the hedges, and nurturing the few survivors, as Paul King and others have been doing, we may avoid that final fate. (In truth, the American chestnut might not quite be dead. At least, George W Bush planted one outside the White House on Arbor Day in 2005 – but it is a hybrid: 15 per cent of its genes are from resistant Asian species. It is a sad relic, like an exhumed dodo).

Overall, the message is mixed. We could see the heroic efforts of a few growers and scientists as a triumph of human ingenuity over natural adversity – the continuing tale of “man’s conquest of nature”. Or we could see this endeavour as a desperate, last-ditch attempt to ward off the consequences of our own folly. For these are tales of hubris. We thought we could do what we liked in the name of commerce. But actually, life is more complicated than we ever supposed – and in the end, it is beyond our ken. Cause and effect relationships in nature are non-linear, which means it is intrinsically impossible to predict the outcome, beyond saying it won’t be good.

Source: Telegraph newspaper

Date: 09/06/2010

EU and Congo deal ‘to curb illegal timber trade’


The European Union and the Republic of Congo have announced a new agreement to ensure wood products exported from the Republic of Congo to the EU contain no illegally harvested timber and are derived from managed forests, says the European Forest Institute.

Congo exports about $330 million in timber products each year, about half of which are purchased by EU countries.

Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium are the principle EU importers, but it has been difficult to confirm whether the produce has been derived from timber harvested legally, and the benefits from timber sales are shared with forest communities.

“With a total of 4,674,320 acres of certified forests as of March 2009, Congo has reached the highest echelon of tropical wood producing countries and is becoming a laboratory for sustainable forest management,” said Henri Djombo, Congo’s Minister of Forest Economy.

“The conclusion of this agreement will guarantee our country new opportunities in timber markets while participating in reinforcing governance in that sector and illustrating Congo’s political commitment to work in that direction.”

The legally binding agreement is known as a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), which stems from European Commission’s 2003 Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) that is designed to halt the flow of illegal timber into EU markets.

It is the culmination of several years of work between the EU, the government of Republic of Congo, and NGOs that, rather than impose EU standards, allows the national government and various stakeholder groups to establish their own system for defining and enforcing legal requirements for timber sales.

Source: Eurek Alert

Date: 09/05/2009

China outlines tree planting plans for 2009


China’s Vice Prime Minister Hui Liangyu has urged government departments and the public to focus on the environment, and continue to plant trees, the China Daily website reports.

In 2008, China’s forest cover increased by 4.77 million hectares, Mr Hui told a conference attended by the country’s central and local forestry administration heads.

In addition, output of the country’s forestry sector reached 1.33 trillion yuan ($194 billion), an increase of just over 6% from the previous 12 months.

Forestry import and export volume was also expected to surpass $70 billion in 2008.

During 2009, China plans to plant 5.48 million hectares of trees, of which volunteers will plant about 2.5 billion trees.

The State Forestry Administration head, Jia Zhibang, also said at the conference that authorities will add more forestry jobs and increase forestry farmers’ income.

China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress (NPC), passed a resolution in 1981 making it a duty of all citizens older than 11 to plant trees annually.

The tree-planting drive is part of a campaign to boost green coverage to 20% of the country by 2010.

Source: China Daily

Date: 12/01/2009

Certified Chinese forest ‘reaches one million hectares’


Forests owned by members of the Chinese chapter of WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) that have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has recently passed the one-million-hectare mark, the environmental group has announced.

Set up and managed by WWF, GFTN aims to eliminate illegal logging and improve the management of valuable and threatened forests.

By facilitating trade links between companies committed to achieving and supporting responsible forestry, the GFTN creates market conditions that help conserve the world’s forests while providing economic and social benefits for the businesses and people that depend on them.

WWF says this latest news marks a significant step for GFTN-China in its wide-scale promotion of FSC certification.

FSC is an independent, not-for-profit non-governmental organisation that provides standard setting, trademark assurance and accreditation services for companies and organizations interested in responsible forestry.

WWF is one of the main supporters of FSC globally and has been working on FSC certification for about eight years in China.

Mr Su Ming, deputy director of international co-operation for the State Forestry Administration said: “Sustainable management is a long-term goal for China’s forestry development [and] forest certification is one of the most effective methods to ensure this goal.

“We’re delighted by the co-operation between domestic forestry companies and international conservation organisations to introduce such advance management concepts and approaches to China.”

WWF says the goal of GFTN-China is to eliminate illegal logging and improve the management of valuable and threatened forests in China, and in those countries supplying wood and fibre to China.

Source: WWF press release

Date: 07/01/2009

Forests and farms ‘can fight climate change’


The problem of global warming from greenhouse gases calls for a stronger involvement of agriculture and farming communities, as well as forestry and forest users in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said.

“Agriculture and deforestation are major contributors to climate change, but by the same token farmers and forest users could become key players in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said FAO assistant directo-general Alexander Muller.

“Unlocking the potential of agriculture and forestry for climate change mitigation requires financing mechanisms targeting farmers and foresters around the globe, particularly small-scale land-users in developing countries,” he added.

“These mechanisms should give priority to emission-reducing measures that have ‘co-benefits’ for food and energy security, poverty reduction, sustainable use of natural resources. Forestry and agriculture offer many opportunities for such ‘win-win’ measures.

According to the FAO, greenhouse gas emissions from forestry and agriculture contribute more than 30% of the current annual total emissions (deforestation and forest degradation accounts for 17.4%, while agriculture is responsible for 13.5%).

When looking at methane, the FAO says that agriculture is responsible for half of the annual emissions (primarily through livestock and rice), and more that 75% of nitrous oxide (largely from fertiliser application) emitted annually by human activities.

“Climate change will affect the lives and livelihoods of farmers, fishers and forest users in developing countries, many of whom are already facing difficulties in earning a sufficient income and feeding their families,” Mr Muller continued.

Rural communities, particularly those living in already environmentally fragile areas, face an immediate and ever-growing risk of increased crop failure, loss of livestock, and reduced availability of marine, aquaculture and forest products.

Humans, plants, livestock and fish also face the risk of being exposed to new pests and diseases.

Mr Muller concluded that climate change had the potential to increase hunger, particularly in the world’s poorest nations.

“We have to act now if we want to avoid a humanitarian disaster,” he said.

Roughly 40% of the land biomass is directly or indirectly managed by farmers, foresters or herders.

He added: “The international community can only win the global battle against climate change if we succeed in mobilizing the potential of these land users to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in sequestering carbon in soil and plants.

“We have to adapt to climate changes that are of greater intensity and rapidity than in the past.”

Source: FAO press release

Date: 04/12/2008

Forests ‘forgotten’ in EU climate policy, MEPs warn


A Swedish MEP has said that the EU climate policy package’s failure to address the role of forests in curbing global warming was a “major mistake”, reports the EurActiv website.

Liberal MEP Lena Ek made her comments during a meeting of the European Parliament’s Industry Committee.

Her views were seconded by Irish Christian Democrat MEP Avril Doyle, responsible for shepherding a proposal to revise the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) through Parliament.

The Irish MEP said that Europe would have “no credibility” in international climate negotiations without some sort of forest-related policy framework.

Ms Doyle added that he wanted the issue “stitched through” both the EU ETS and a separate proposal on “effort sharing”, which spells out member states’ commitments to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in sectors not covered by the ETS.

Deforestation is widely considered to be a key driver of global warming since tropical and other forests absorb CO2, thus mitigating the effects of emissions on the climate. But EU policymakers are struggling to define rules to keep trees standing.

Mechanisms to prevent deforestation – by giving landowners EU ETS credits for leaving forests standing, for example – were not included in the Commission’s climate proposals, put forward on 23 January.

This was due to apparent difficulties related to measuring emissions from these sectors with accuracy.

But the issue was also not “on the radar screen” of officials working on the EU ETS proposal in the EU executive’s environment service (DG Environment).

A push to use biomass for biofuels in transport or in home heating means that forests, and the land on which they stand, have a higher and more immediate economic value if exploited for energy-related purposes than if left standing.

The Commission attempted to address the issue in its 2006 Forest Action Plan, but environmentalists, and industries that use forests for non-energy purposes, are increasingly worried that Europe’s energy thirst will put too much pressure on forests and that the non-binding action plan is too weak to prevent an overshoot.

Source: Euractiv website

Date: 11/09/2008

Australian Greens call for end to native forest felling


The Australian Green Party is trying to gather support for their new policy to end the felling of all native forests, national broadcaster ABC reports.

The party has announced it wants the logging of native forests to end, and for timber to be sourced from tree plantations.

Green MP Paul Llewellyn says the party will allocate preferences in the coming state election to whichever major party supports their stance.

“Clearly the Greens are a rising force across Australia,” he is quoted as saying.

“In the Northern Territory we saw the Greens get 15% of the vote.

“We do determine which government goes into power by our preferences and native forest logging is going to be one of the important considerations in our decision about who to support.

“I do think that there is a unified voice across the conservation movement that native forest logging must stop and that we must make a complete transfer to plantations and farmed forestry.

“Our forefathers were preparing us for this by planting many thousands of hectares of pine and blue gum plantations.”

Source: ABC Online

Date: 14/08/2008

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