Forest ownership in the ECE region – The organisation of public forest ownership

The UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section and the COST Action FACESMAP joined forces to produce a joint study titled “Who owns our forests? Forest ownership in the ECE region”, which provides a comprehensive understanding of forest ownership as well as the role of forest owners and managers as key actors in the delivery of forest ecosystems and their products. In this study, EUSTAFOR supported the development of Chapter 5.3 on which explains the organisation of public forest ownership in the region.

While studies and reports on the region’s forests have so far focused on their state and functions, the joint study on forest ownership aims to address the gap of knowledge and information about this topic, how the ownership is changing as well as the implications for management and policy. Within the framework of this study, a seminar was held in the European Forestry House, Brussels, on 14 December 2018, where authors of the study presented analyses on forests, forest policies and forest management under different ownership. The main results of the study set the scene for discussions on the status, trends, opportunities and challenges, with the representatives of European Institutions, representatives of forest owner organisations and the Brussels-based stakeholders.

According to the FAO Forest Resources Assessment, forest ownership is defined as: the legal right to freely and exclusively use, control, transfer, or otherwise benefit from a forest. Ownership can be acquired through transfers such as sales, donations, and inheritance (FAO, 2018, p.16).

As forest ownership is complex, diverse and changing, it is crucial to acknowledge and understand the forest owners, their rights, responsibilities, decisions and behaviours. Based on data collected from 35 countries, and the first to include all forest ownership categories, this study investigates the changing nature and patterns of forest ownership, the ways in which governance and social structures influence forest owners and users, as well as forest management. Within the limits of data availability and harmonization, the publication provides an overview of, and a new baseline for, understanding the diversity and dynamics of forest ownership in the ECE region.

According to the study, public forest ownership plays a significant role in the ECE region, which is sub-divided into forest land owned by: (1) the state, at national level, (2) the state, at sub-national government scale, and (3) local government. In state-owned forests, which are mainly financed by two different sources, market-based and/or state-based financing, State Forest Organisations (SFOs) have multiple tasks including maintaining and enhancing sustainable and multifunctional forest management, accomplished through diverse organisational settings. Playing an active role in the use and protection of forests, SFOs aim to ensure that forests can fully provide their social, economic and environmental benefits, such as the provision of forest goods and services that are of general interest to the public, which go beyond timber and include the provision of non-wood forest products, as well as other services. In addition to forest management, SFOs are also obliged to implement national forest laws and provide professional expertise to the public and policymaking processes at the international, regional and national levels.

SFOs include organisations which exclusively provide forest management services as well as Integrated SFOs which combine management with the authority tasks. The commitment of SFOs to sustainable forest management (SFM), conceptualised in forest laws and other national and international policies, is manifold. Through multifunctional forest management, it includes the provision of multiple benefits from state-owned forest for satisfying both the market demand and the public (non-market) demand. All activities must be undertaken within the frame of sustainable forests. An additional requirement is economic viability. Finally, coordinating and harmonizing inter/cross-sectoral forest-based issues is required. This political role is discussed under the aspect of interest representation.

The study also emphasises the active role of SFOs in the use and protection of forests. Making use of the forest as a natural resource requires continuous investments into developing new forest goods and services. SFOs, with their significant capacities, have a great potential for innovation. Therefore, in many countries, innovation in forestry is not possible without support from SFOs.

The full study “Who owns our forests? Forest ownership in the ECE region” is available here. Public ownership of forests and its organisation are addressed in Chapter 5.2 and 5.3.

Published 20/04/2020

Diem Tran

Communications Officer
  • +32 (0) 2 239 23 00

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