Forests and Human Health Jan-16-2013

Resources for the future

John Innes
Professor, Office of the Dean, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, Canada

The Task Force on “Resources for the Future” of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations was established in 2011 with the objective of examining some of the ways that the forests of the future may be utilized. It comes at a time when there are huge pressures on forests, and forest degradation and deforestation are widespread. While there are increasing concerns about forest conservation, the world continues to lose its forests and large areas of land are in need of rehabilitation.

The Task Force was established to examine some of the future demands on forests, and has a mission to both examine these demands and analyze how they might be dealt with. The demands are diverse, and what is readily evident is that more and more material is going to be extracted from forests in the future. Bioenergy is one area that is already evident, and material that would formerly have been left in the forest is now being extracted for use as fuel. However, there are also a whole suite of products that are either already coming from forests, or could do so in the future. This will radically change the way that forests are valued, and the value of forest-derived fibre is likely to increase significantly.

As the forests become more valuable for the goods that they provide, what of the services? We are already having considerable difficulty operationalizing valuation systems for forest services, as shown by the on-going debate over REDD+. It seems likely that some valuations will become progressively more difficulty as the value of forest goods increases.

On service provided by forests is human health, although this remains controversial, particularly amongst the more traditional medical community in North America. A cynic might suggest that this is because North America has become so dependent on pharmaceuticals. Yet evidence is mounting from many different sources about the multiple potential benefits of forests for human health. If this were to be more widely recognized, there might be a shift in the way of thinking that sees forests simply as a source of raw materials.

We seem destined for future conflict between the demands for goods and the demands for services from forests. Resolutions to this conflict are likely to be at a local scale, and will require forest managers to exercise their skills to the fullest.

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