Ecological goods and services represent a new approach that seeks to link the total value that forests contribute to society. Often these are interpreted to include health, social, cultural, and economic needs. Not all forests are the same though. In some places on the planet forests grow wildly, and are not impacted by humans directly. However, in other places forests are managed more closely and operated as plantations. Ecological services and values can be attributed to both cases. This book considers plantation forests and the values that they contribute toward society.
Review by Jeff Thurston
Ecosystems goods and services include the health, social, cultural, and economic needs that forests contribute to society. Although we don’t attribute spatial factors to them directly, to ascertain the value of these goods and services often require a myriad of spatial information technologies, services, education and research – we learn a great deal about the values through the use and application of the technologies.
The authors focus upon the plantation forests. To explain – plantation forests are those forests that are established and managed through forest management techniques. By comparison, wild (native) forests develop naturally without human intervention. Notice I did not suggest one is natural and other not; that is because they are both natural systems and impacted by soil, water, climate and other factors. Thus, plantations differ primarily due to the level of human intervention.
Since plantations require higher levels of human involvement, their economic benefits may be smaller due to labour cost inputs. However, even these costs may be attributed to the benefit side of the equation because these plantation forests would then support families. To understand the benefits of plantation forests, one needs to understand the value they contribute in view of the lower productivity land upon which they arise. In such cases unproductive land is rendered more productive, since the forests contribute ecological benefits. As the book states, even Plato recognised that loss of forests represented loss of value, and the notion that ecological benefits are new is not true – this term was coined in the 1970’s. But, the case this book makes is in terms of how these plantation forests are considered and evaluated – for values.
The popularity of plantation forests is serious business. The total land area for these forests has increased from 100 million hectare in 1990 to 140 million hectares in 2005. If you think these forests are only located in tropical areas, think again. I can show you large areas of the Federal State of Brandenburg in Germany, for example, that grow vast quantities of plantation pine. Asia, Europe and then North America are those areas with the largest number of plantations. This book includes a large number of useful statistics and graphics about the world’s forests and plantation forestry. Many of these references are right up to date within the last year or two.
Since forests are assigned an inappropriate value in terms of market value, their current destruction and degradation are improperly understood in terms of value, thereby impacted the value of plantation forests. The authors point out that indicators are necessary for understanding the value of goods and services relative to one of four categories.
As the book shifts to discuss the impacts of plantations and water, an extensive discussion about the hydrological cycle and forests arises. The book describes ongoing research into forest water relationships.
Since world forested area is declining, although plantation area is increasing, this needs to be explained in terms of native forests giving way to outright destruction along with conversion to plantation status. This imposes a change in terms of functional value for biodiversity upon these areas because native forests are usually considered to have greater biodiversity values. The challenge the book describes is in terms of silvicultural management strategies for maintaining biodiversity in plantation forests. As a consequence biodiversity values are explored and discussed, and multi-scaled plans presented. I did find it different that the chapter on silvicultural operations extended 30 pages, but also followed with 10 pages.
An issue that is often discussed today pertains to small-grower contributions toward offsetting carbon. This is often seen as a means to increase forest capacity while providing small growers with market opportunities to increase their standards of living. This book does an admirable job of describing small-grower contributions and how governance and donors fit into these types of schemes.
Assessment of these programs to date, finds that they have not been very successful for a number of reasons over periods of time up to a century in length. Importantly, the text points out that this needs to change and we need to understand why small-grower approaches are not bearing the gains that we anticipated. In a sense we might go so far as to suggest that offset schemes are dependent upon these smallholders succeeding if we are to make headway using these approaches.
Policy is fully investigated in the later chapters. It is suggested that true values of forests contributions need to be recognised within legislation and policy. Toward that end the authors propose that an entire reconceptualization of forests needs to occur. That being the case, this debate needs to move from research labs more fully to engage citizens. A governance framework for ecological goods and services is provided. Spatial scales are discussed in terms of management scenarios and the scales at which they arise. This will be interesting for many readers familiar with scale issues.
I have to admit that I pleasantly surprised by this book. It provides a well rounded discussion about forests and forestry practice in terms of ecological values and services. Focusing upon plantations, it does not leave native forests out, which helps to explain the plantation concepts even better when compared in the discussions.
It should be obvious that ecological services and values relate to spatial data applications and technologies. To understand forest cover, aerial or satellite imagery is often used. To understand water concepts in forests, sensors and spatial operators integrating time and space are needed. To assess forest physical growth, measurement tools such as lasers and GNSS are needed. Finally to represent this information, mapping has long been used with geographci information systems (GIS) providing the functionality.
The goal is to understand ecological services and values better and to develop suitable policies. This book explains the issues, concepts and needs. Spatial tools and technologies will undoubtedly play a role in meeting these challenges.
Jeff Thurston is co-founder and co-editor of V1 Magazine / Asian Surveying and Mapping for Vector1 Media. He is based in Berlin, Germany.