The following principles constitute the core Forest Defender Alliance philosophy. Materials published under the Forest Defenders Alliance logo must be consistent with these principles. To endorse the principles, click here. To see the list of NGO’s that have endorsed, scroll down.
Forest ecosystems benefit all of society, helping to provide resilience and capacity for adaptation as the climate and environment change. Just as important or more important than their provision of timber and other products, forests, and especially primary forests, provide carbon storage (as recognised also in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030); regulate and filter the water supply; regulate and buffer microclimate; provide habitat for an overwhelming number of species, including pollinators; and provide nature-based recreation.
However, forests in the EU are in terrible condition. According to the 2020 EEA State of Nature in the EU report, only 15% of forest habitats in the Natura 2000 network, the EU’s flagship protected area network intended to “ensure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats,” exhibit favourable conservation status. Fortunately, the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy 2030 calls for strict protection of all primary and old growth forests. However, this only amounts to 4% of Europe’s forests. More is needed.
Protection of forests and the ecological infrastructure they provide is in the common interest, particularly for future generations who will have to face the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss that are already locked in.
What will help ensure that forests, including primary forests, are strengthened to endure against the impacts of climate change and exploitation? We believe it is management and policies that embody the following guiding principles:
- Climate mitigation and biodiversity values are intertwined.
- Forest ecosystems as natural habitats are self-sustaining, and do not require active human management.
- The higher a forest’s level of ecosystem integrity, the greater its stability, resilience, and resistance to threats, and the greater its climate mitigation benefit and adaptive capacity.
What would forest management in accordance with this principle look like?
1. More strictly protected forests, and better management of protected areas
1.a At least 15% of total forest cover in Europe should be strictly protected (meaning no active forest management) to allow the development and restoration of dynamic functioning forest ecosystems that exhibit the full array of species composition and long-lived, stable carbon stocks in plants and soils. This is in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, which calls for immediate protection of remaining primary and old-growth forests and strict protection of 10% of EU’s total terrestrial area.
1.b The EU should promote policies that ensure the main purpose of protected areas (as explained by IUCN) is respected even when some timber extraction is allowed, so that protected area values are not degraded, but maintained and enhanced.
1.c Improved forest protection is proactively paired with new job opportunities and development of the green economy in rural areas through services linked to protection, including law enforcement, research, monitoring, recreation, domestic and international tourism and interpretation.
2. Reduced impacts from forestry in managed forests, and re-naturalization of production forests wherever possible
2.a The EU policies should focus on how to reduce extraction of timber from production forests, including prioritising the circular economy and greater recycling and re-use of wood-products.
2.b “Natural” (non-plantation) forests that are managed nonetheless should exhibit the following characteristics:
- The diversity of species and structural characteristics are as close as possible to undisturbed forests
- Deadwood is abundant and plays an important role in habitat provision, nutrient cycling, and carbon storage
- Natural disturbance, including fire, blow-down, and beetles, continues to be part of ecosystem dynamics. Since pro-active suppression of these forces often intensifies ecosystem degradation, such suppression is minimised.
2.c Plantations that are managed to produce commodity wood should wherever possible be re-naturalised and diversified to promote carbon storage and biodiversity. This will also help improve their resilience to disturbances such as pest outbreaks.
2.d Rotation length in forests and plantations managed for commodities should be increased to store more carbon and allow ecosystem development. Some plantations should be re-naturalised to achieve ecological connectivity and improve resilience. In the plantations that continue to be managed exclusively for productivity, focus on improving agro-ecological practices in monoculture plantations by reducing pesticide and fertiliser inputs and increasing structural and compositional diversity.
2.e Management should focus on removing or minimise pressures including weeds, feral animals, pests, livestock grazing, fire suppression, and changes to hydrological regimes like water tables. This will facilitate natural adaptation through ecological processes and natural selection.
3. Increased connectivity and forest cover though pro-forestation and reforestation; afforestation only in rare instances
3.a Pro-forestation (allowing natural forests to grow older and larger, and re-naturalising plantation forests), as recognised by the European Parliament report on the EU’s role to protect and restore the world’s forests, is the quickest way to recover biodiversity, resiliency, ecosystem integrity and stable, long-lived carbon stocks in forests.
3.b There must be immediate focus and action to increase and restore connectivity between blocks of older and aging forests to integrate climate and biodiversity action. Reforestation can play a role, but must focus on re-establishing natural forests.
3.c Afforestation (planting forests in non-forest biomes), which the EC suggests should be biodiversity-friendly, should only be contemplated if needed to improve ecological connectivity between strictly protected areas and improve landscape scale resilience. It must promote planting of mixed native species, not monoculture plantations.
3.d Afforestation / reforestation must respect human rights, the need to conserve a range of ecosystem types and the need for land use management to supply food and fibre.
4. Abandon the idea that the “bio-economy” can be fed with wood from forests
4.a Harvesting of forests for biomass fuel must be dramatically reduced, and the concept of “sustainability” as a proxy for bioenergy carbon neutrality must be abandoned as scientifically indefensible. “Sustainable” (also known as “sustained yield”) forest management, which maintains removal levels below growth levels, is a valid concept for ensuring a continuing supply of wood products, but biomass that is harvested “sustainably” still represents a net addition of CO2 to the atmosphere for decades to centuries. EU member states must stop importing wood fuel from outside their borders and particularly from non-EU countries, as this is damaging forests logged for fuel and feeding a false narrative of high availability of “zero carbon” biomass.
4.b The EU should abandon the false promise that maximising timber extraction in the framework of the bioeconomy will maximise climate benefits. While harvested wood products can store some carbon, their production generally leads to a net loss of carbon from the forest system, and any expansion of forest harvesting as a means of replacing fossil fuels and other carbon-intensive materials conflicts with the goal of re-naturalising forests and increasing strictly protected areas.
The UNFCCC COP 25 in Madrid called for integrated action to prevent biodiversity loss and climate change, a sign that the world is increasingly looking for integrated solutions to the biodiversity and climate crises. The European Parliament in its report adopted on 16 September recognised that “in order to limit global warming and help tackle biodiversity loss, it is essential that forests are protected, restored and managed in such a way as to maximise their capacity for carbon storage and biodiversity protection”.
Developing integrated climate and biodiversity solutions is as important for Europe as it is for developing countries. Allowing and encouraging European forests to reach their biological potential would make an enormous difference at scale to tackling both crises.
More strict protection, pro-forestation and less logging pressure on forests in the EU and beyond will provide integrated benefits and play a meaningful role in achieving “net neutral” policy by 2050. Protecting existing forest carbon stocks and increasing forest carbon uptake will increase the land sector carbon sink and contribute to reversing the biodiversity crisis.
An overall vision for the EU’s forests and forest policies:
- At least 15% of Europe’s forests must be strictly protected with the concept of increase core, strictly protected areas surrounded with appropriate buffer zones and guaranteed ecological connectivity
- Other natural and semi natural forests under active management must have more biodiversity and climate friendly management practices
- Ensure all forest-relevant EU policies (forest policy, climate, biodiversity, renewable energy, bio-economy) prioritise protecting and restoring natural forests to maximise nature preservation, ecosystem functions, biodiversity, climate resilience and mitigation
The Forest Defender Principles have been endorsed by:
- 2 Celsius
- Associação de Moradores e Proprietários do Vaqueirinho
- CEEweb for Biodiversity
- Comite Schone Lucht NL
- Dogwood Alliance
- Earth Thrive
- The Enviro Show
- Estonian Forest Aid
- European Wilderness Society
- Extinction Rebellion Belgium
- Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung
- Friends of the Irish Environment
- Friends of Fertő Lake
- Fundatia Conservation Carpathia
- Hnutí DUHA – Friends of the Earth
- Green Impact
- Lifescape Project
- National Ecological Centre of Ukraine (NECU)
- Natural Heritage Foundation
- Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI)
- RESTORE: The North Woods
- ViDrA – Green Squad
- Wendell State Forest Alliance
- Wild Europe
- Wild Heritage
- Wildland Research Institute