Achieving Lasting Conservation Outcomes in Tropical Forests Given Demands for Food, Fiber and Fuel
Humans now actively manage the majority of land on Earth, and our footprint is found in nearly all remaining natural landscapes. It is no surprise that a debate about how to mix people and nature has emerged — dubbed “land sharing vs. land sparing” — that asks the question: How do we achieve the greatest conservation outcomes in a landscape given demands for food, fiber and fuel? Should we intensify production in one part of the landscape so that we may strictly protect (“spare”) the remainder? Or is it better to integrate (“share”) production and conservation in the same areas?
Answering this question is especially complex in tropical timber production landscapes, where many countries have new forest climate emissions reductions policies and goals that appear to conflict with increasing timber production targets. Timber production also has tremendous implications for human well-being in the tropics — for instance, forestry jobs are major sources of high-risk employment, and timber harvest impacts flood risk and water quality. The ultimate outcomes for both nature and people of these activities vary greatly depending upon logging practices and production systems.
Conservation organizations, along with corporate and government partners, are investing in both “sharing” (e.g., low-impact logging in Mexico, Guatemala, and Borneo) as well as “sparing” approaches (e.g., intensification of cattle ranching in Brazil). Yet none of these initiatives seem to have considered the empirical basis for choosing one approach over the other.
The long-term sustainability of large-scale conservation efforts depends upon achieving not just carbon outcomes, but also human well-being and ecosystem service outcomes for local communities. The complexity of tropical timber production landscapes demands focused analysis. The urgency of this analysis is amplified by the advance of forest-carbon financing (e.g., the FCPF Climate Fund, now at ~$460 million) and processes (e.g., UNFCCC) that are driving policies in tropical countries to achieve forest conservation outcomes by 2020, in the midst of growing demand for tropical timber.
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