Temperate Forests and The Policies In Place for Their Protection

by Beatrice Trascau

Over the course of history, temperate forests have been significantly altered by human activities, including agricultural and urban expansion [1,2]. Historically, humans have maximised the exploitation of resources from temperate forests, with demand increasing for timber use in construction, pulp and paper, and biofuels [3,4]. While the overall trends suggest that temperate forest land cover has increased over the past fifty years, some areas are still experiencing high deforestation rates [2,3]. Temperate forests perform numerous crucial ecosystem services and functions, such as water provisioning, carbon sequestration and recreational functions [5]. Many policies have been put into place to protect temperate forests which will be reviewed in this article.

One of the best-known international organisations aiming to ensure the sustainable exploitation of temperate forests is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Established in 1993, the FSC is an international non-profit certification body which aims to promote management of the world’s forests that is sustainable for both the environment and people [6]. FSC certification ensures that the forests from which materials are extracted are managed in a sustainable way, following a set of rigorous criteria [6]. The criteria cover multiple aspects, from conservation and sustainable management to workers’ and Indigenous peoples’ rights [7]. However, there are cases where FSC certification has not prevented companies from using harmful exploitation methods, such as clearcutting [8].

In addition to certification, regulations are used to protect temperate European forests under the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR). The EUTR was adopted in 2010 and prohibits the commercialisation of illegally harvested timber on the EU market [9]. Such an initiative represents a great step towards protecting the world’s forests, as illegal harvesting of timber leads to widespread deforestation and forest degradation, which can cause biodiversity loss and increases in greenhouse gas emissions [9]. Furthermore, trading of illegally harvested timber can distort international markets and sabotage legally-harvested products [9]. However, the effectiveness of the EUTR is undermined by several gaps in its implementation, such as a lack of criminal sanctions for EUTR infringements in Member States, low fines for companies and lack of systematic combined checks among Member States[10]. 

Within the United States, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which was published in 2001, has protected over 24 million hectares of forested land from the creation of new roads [11]. The Roadless Rule is particularly important as the construction of roads has detrimental effects on the environment, such as fragmenting and degrading  habitats, and facilitating colonisation by invasive species[12]. Although the Roadless Rule protects significant areas of forested land across North America, and conserves valuable habitats and species, it also had several flaws [13]. Some of these include the fact that it has permitted logging of certain species, allowed new roads to be built under special circumstances, and has been altered by several different government administrations [13,14]. 

Two further important pieces of legislation within the United States are the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of 1976 and the Wilderness Act of 1964. The NFMA was adopted to protect national forests from excessive logging and clearcutting, thereby protecting biodiversity [15]. The NFMA also requires that authorities take a multidisciplinary approach to resource management and ensure the conservation of native species [15]. The Wilderness Act defined “wilderness” in legal terms and led to the creation of the National Wilderness Preservation System, which initially included over 3 million hectares of land across 13 states [16]. Currently, the Wilderness Preservation System protects over 44 million hectares of land [16]. However, both the NFMA and Wilderness Act conserve the landscape through land sparing, which can also present several challenges.

In conclusion, temperate forests perform important ecosystem services and are still threatened by demand for timber and human expansion [1,5]. Therefore, numerous policies have been put in place to protect them and ensure their sustainable exploitation. However, simply adopting policies will not be enough to ensure the protection of temperate forests, with unified implementation, and sanctioning of those breaching policies, also  necessary to ensure their effectiveness. 


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