London: Large swaths of the world`s tropical forests have been officially shielded from deforestation, but an international conservation group says that may not be enough to save them.
A report published Tuesday by the International Tropical Timber Organization said that much of the land being set aside for forests wasn`t being managed sustainably — leaving them vulnerable as agriculture and biofuel production gobble up acre after acre (hectare after hectare).
"Deforestation is going down and there is a very considerable increase, and good coverage, of protected areas," Duncan Poore, one of the report`s authors, told The Associated Press ahead of its publication.
But he said that, looking to the future, "the prospects might not look so favorable."
That`s because rising food and fuel prices mean land left covered in trees becomes far less profitable than land used to grow soy beans or wheat. And with a global climate deal still a distant prospect, it`s by no means clear that the money wealthy companies are pouring in to tropical forests to offset their greenhouse gas emissions will continue to flow.
"Forces favoring forest destruction, such as higher food and fuel prices, could easily overwhelm those that favor forest conservation," the organization said in a statement accompanying the report.
The report itself counted 761 million hectares (1.88 billion acres) of so-called "permanent forest estate" — land set aside to host tropical forests for perpetuity.
That would make the size of the permanent estate about as large as Australia, but the report warned that only 10 percent of that land was being managed sustainably — a term which means that timber, fruit, and nut harvesting are being kept to within healthy levels and that the forests` borders are secure.
Speaking from the bright, first-floor room of London`s Royal Overseas League, Poore said that the international community should focus on making sure the remaining 700 million-odd hectares (1.73 billion-odd acres) set aside for forest use were brought under sustainable management.
If that happened, he said, he could live with having the rest turned over to farming or other uses. "If those 700 million hectares is secure, I think we`re O.K.," he said.
"It would be good if there were more," he added, before becoming pensive for a moment.
"It`s more important to decide what you want to keep and secure it and look after well, than it is to lament a forest which has disappeared," he said.
The Japan-based International Tropical Timber Organization, founded in 1986, is composed of 33 member nations who together account for 1.42 billion hectares (3.51 billion acres) of tropical forest, or 85 percent of the world`s total.