Impending Global Decisions and Forest-Dependent Species

By: John Fitzgerald

Concern over the global loss of forests and their biological diversity has increased during the past ten years. Efforts to reduce this loss have ranged from citizen boycotts of corporations that trade in forest products thought to be harvested unsustainably, to the adoption of new legal limitations on the harvesting of certain timber species or forest types. During the fall of 1996, several meetings will take place that may have a tremendous impact on the fate of forest-dependent species around the world, particularly those that are endangered or threatened. This article is intended to provide some insight into the key issues being considered at both the international and national level.

The recent revision of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the granting of greater powers to the World Trade Organization (WTO), undertaken with the goal of removing unilateral barriers to trade, have made some nations and organizations reluctant to establish standards which may be construed as restricting international trade. The extent to which the revised GATT will allow unilateral regulation of trade in the interest of natural resource conservation has not yet been determined. Many believe, therefore, that the best way to implement regulations is within the context of agreements or treaties between nations.

Although several international bodies have been active in forest management issues, there are two treaties under which nations and interest groups have begun to address the loss of forest-dependent biodiversity: the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). These two existing natural resource management treaties together are comprehensive enough in their scope and number of parties to cover nearly all aspects of forest conservation, trade, and sustainable use worldwide.

Since 1972, CITES has been the primary treaty controlling trade in wild animals and plants. It forbids commercial trade in species listed by a vote of the parties in Appendix I . It establishes international trade controls for species listed in Appendix II to ensure that the international trade in them continues only so long as they are maintained throughout their range at a level consistent with their role in the ecosystem and well above the level at which they might become eligible for threatened status and inclusion in Appendix I. Nations that regulate the trade or harvest of species under domestic law may list those species on Appendix III in order to obtain trade reporting assistance of countries to which such species may be exported, legally or illegally.

Twenty years after CITES was concluded as a treaty to deal comprehensively with wild species in trade, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The CBD is designed to deal more directly with all other aspects of the conservation and sustainable use of all forms of genetic and species diversity, both wild and domestic. Parties to the CBD are required to adopt procedures that help maintain genetic and species diversity and ensure that use is sustainable and fair to those peoples and nations that have conserved that diversity. The steps include identifying and monitoring indicators of diversity; conserving or restoring its elements, such as endangered species and degraded ecosystems; incorporating incentives for conservation into the various sectors of the economy and government; developing environmental impact assessments to help guide decisions; and sharing the benefits of biological resources and the technologies for developing those benefits (e.g., new pharmaceuticals, disease-resistant genetic features for agriculture).

The CBD requires each party to establish standards for endangered species conservation and sustainable use management. Although President Clinton signed the CBD in 1993, the Senate has not voted to ratify the treaty, despite approval by the Foreign Relations Committee in 1994 by a vote of 16-3. The United States (U.S.), in fact, provides a prime example of regression in forest conservation standards. In 1995 President Clinton signed into law the Congressionally approved "timber salvage rider," which set aside, under certain conditions, all federal laws regulating the harvest of federal forests, including protections for biodiversity under the 1976 National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and protections for endangered species under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). The rider is slated to expire this year but Congressional leaders want to extend it. The existence of the salvage rider means that the U.S., instead of playing a leading role in setting international environmental standards, could be viewed as hindering the process. The U.S. could also be in violation of our existing international duty not to harm the environment of our neighbors, for example, by harming resources shared with British Columbia such as owls, murrelets, salmon, and other species dependent on ancient forests. (See "The Biological Diversity Treaty of the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development," Endangered Species UPDATE, Vol. 9, Nos. 9 &10, July/August, 1992).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Forests

To review domestic and international forest practices and regulations and potential conflicts with the GATT, a large number of meetings and working groups have been, since 1995, addressing nearly every element of forest management, trade, and law. These meetings are being held under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF), which was established under the United Nationıs Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). Topics to be addressed include criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management, valuation of forest products and services, and restoration technologies.

The IPF recently completed its third formal session, September 9-20 in Geneva. On September 9, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the World Conservation Monitoring Center (WCMC) released maps for consideration by the IPF showing that 94 percent of the world's 13 million square miles of forests have no form of protection. The WWF/WCMC recommend protection for 10 percent of all forests, with forests of Brazil, Cambodia and Cameroon among their greatest concern, although they also noted that only 2 percent of the forests in the lower 48 United States have not been logged at least once.

Balancing forest diversity and trade has been an ongoing issue. Some parties, particularly those engaged in trading forest products, have felt that CITES and the CBD overemphasize the conservation of forest biological resources without balancing the need to provide economic development and free trade. The Terms of Reference of the IPF, Part IV, on Trade and the Environment, direct the panel to use an approach that "promotes a supportive relationship between trade and the environment" and notes "the need to remove unilateral bans and boycotts inconsistent with the rules of the international trade system." The terms also express the need to review even the voluntary certification and labeling of forest products and their impact on developing countries. This language reflects a concern that certain countries have begun to enact or consider trade requirements that do for timber or wood products what the U.S. ban on the importation of non dolphin-safe tuna did for dolphins‹apply our nation's production standards to products we import from other countries. The Terms of Reference also demonstrate an openness to using certain economic tools, however, in directing the Panel to ³promote the development of methodologies to advance the full valuation, including replacement and environmental costs, of forest goods and services, with a view to promoting full cost internalization."

Other Forest Related Meetings

Several other bodies are considering forest diversity issues during the fall of 1996. A Timber Working Group of CITES has been conducting a review of the listing of timber species in response to questions raised at a nearly successful vote to list bigleaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) on Appendix II as to whether more timber species should be listed under CITES and what problems could arise if they are. The Timber Working Group reviewed existing international timber-related organizations and recommended that these groups be consulted on timber species listings. The group also concluded that such listings under CITES are manageable and advised when warranted according to the appropriate listing criteria. The group made a number of suggestions for improving the reporting of trade, which it conceded was not up to the standard that should be expected. The next Conference of the Parties (COP) to CITES will likely consider proposals to list certain tree species that are harvested and traded internationally.

The CBD will hold its Conference of the Parties in Buenos Aires in November and discuss terrestrial biodiversity, among other issues. The meeting may consider adopting a framework for action on forests that emphasizes several key elements of the CBD. These include, among other things, developing and integrating national strategies across the various sectors including public agencies and private corporations; identifying, monitoring, and regulating harmful categories of action; assessing the impact of proposed projects; and taking into account the effects of proposed programs and policies, including the full cost and value of any restoration that may be required.

The World Conservation Congress, the governing meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), will consider a resolution at its mid-October meeting in Montreal, which calls for the adoption of a forest conservation program or framework for action for CBD parties. The resolution may also urge CITES action on international timber trade to complement the CBD program.

The proposed IUCN resolution recommends further that citizens, particularly traditional communities and indigenous peoples, be afforded the ability to effectively participate in the forest planning and impact assessment processes. It also recommends full valuation of the components of biological diversity, so that biological resources and ecosystem services are incorporated in the accounting of such economic indicators as Gross National or Domestic Products (or separate satellite accounts) to demonstrate the rising or falling value of each nation's natural capital.


The IPF will present its report to the CSD in April 1997. Many NGOs and governments are hopeful that the IPF, and other international organizations working on forest issues, will provide a framework to guide the conservation of forest resources around the world. This framework should, at least, move toward ensuring that uses of forests are biologically sustainable, while pushing countries towards a more comprehensive system of accounting that takes into account the full value of all forest resources.

The ultimate question under the CBD, CITES and other conservation and sustainable use mandates is how to restore and maintain the biological diversity of the forests while recognizing that nations have a right to the sustainable use of their forests, as long as that use does not harm their neighbors' environments.

John Fitzgerald is an attorney in Washington representing conservation groups on federal and international issues. He was the NGO representative on the U.S. Delegation to the 1993 intergovernmental meeting of signatories to the CBD. He can be reached at 4320 Fessenden St., NW, Washington, DC 20016. E-mail: fitzgjmac@aol.com. Tel: (202) 686-8279.

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