Side event: Monday 11 a.m. – Planetary limits
Can FSC play a stronger role in protecting Intact Forest Landscapes?
Anne-Sofie Forfang (Communications Manager) · NEPCon

A side event hosted by Greenpeace on Monday focused on Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs) and explored a possible road map for FSC to better protect them.

zoom (© FSC A.C.) © FSC A.C.IFLs are the world’s last remaining large tracts of natural forest. They are characterized by a natural species composition, natural forest dynamics and the lack of roads and other visible signs of human impact.

Dominick Dellasala, Chief Scientist and President of the Geos Institute, presented maps showing significant loss of IFL around the world. Some delegates even found the grim reality visible in the maps too optimistic. Brazil, Canada and Russia hold the largest remaining tracts of IFL.

Alexey Jarushenko of Greenpeace Russia pointed out that loss and degradation of IFLs also happens within FSC-certified operations.

Unique ecosystem services

Simon Lewis of University College London highlighted the wide range of ecosystem services provided by IFLs: not only do they support unique biological diversity, they also store huge amounts of carbon. In addition, they play an important role in rainfall generation and in stabilizing stream and river flows.

Unfragmented forest ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and future environmental shocks because they allow species to move around. Cultural diversity is another distinct value of IFLs, for example they are home to some of the world’s last hunter-gatherers. “

Roads: A major hazard for intact forest ecosystems

Mr. Dellasala underlined the importance of roads in driving deforestation. The 25 million kilometers of new roads that are projected by 2050 could spell disaster for the IFLs. “Roads into wilderness are major drivers of biodiversity loss,” he warned. “And it’s basically a one-way street. It’s expensive to take these roads out so they tend to become permanent features of the landscape.”

In addition to the direct effects of road building, additional threats to wildlife tend to follow in their wake, such as incursions of poaching and fire.

Mr. Lewis stressed the importance of species migration in the face of climate change: “It’s incredibly important to understand that species are on the move now. All species are on the move. It’s essential to allow species to move around. Connectivity matters.” He recommended removal of roads after logging in IFLs and urged FSC to consider the need for wildlife corridors.

Discussion: Logging in IFLs

Greenpeace has raised Motion 65, which asks FSC to place a stronger focus on ecosystem services, nature conservation and restoration. It also calls for work on FSC Principle 9 (high conservation value forest) to set clear boundaries for logging in IFLs, specifying the conditions under which this is acceptable.

Alexey Jarushenko of Greenpeace Russia questioned the current way of implementing Principle 9 in the Russian FSC Standard, which permits logging in IFL “due to specific local, social conditions.” He conceded that such special conditions exist in some cases, but felt that permitting logging in an IFL should be an exception rather than the standard procedure.

The big question at the heart of the ensuing discussion was: What is the acceptable level of logging in IFLs?

Scientists present at the meeting repeatedly stressed how vulnerable IFLs are to logging. According to Mr. Dellasala, logging 10 percent of an IFL area is clearly above the ecosystem’s “pain” threshold and will lead to significant degradation. “As you deliberate what to do with these landscapes, you need to aim for a high standards,” he urged the FSC community.

Members of the audience pointed out that FSC certification does offer some level of protection and that IFL included in certified operations would likely be in a much poorer state if they’d been left uncertified.

Several who commented supported the idea of using Principle 9 to address the IFL issue rather than excluding logging in IFL altogether. Mauricio Voivodic of the Brazilian NGO IMAFLORA commented, “We run the risk of punishing those who are trying to do a better job. If we say that we’re not going to harvest in IFL, we have to face the fact that some operations will discontinue their existing certification. We should not go into the direction of having an IFL-free FSC system, that would be a very dangerous road.” This argument resonated strongly with the audience.

A gap seems to exist between the boundaries set by reality and the conservation needs established by science. However, it appears that stronger guidance on Principle 9 might be a feasible way to balance interests and bolster IFL conservation in certified forests.