COLLEGE STATION – Protecting forests and the livelihoods they support depends on the ability to develop and implement effectively policy and other initiatives with global cooperation, according to Dr. Jianbang Gan, a Texas A&M University department of ecosystem science and management professor.
"In East Texas, there are more than 40 counties that are considered forestry communities, where plantation forests traditionally provide wood materials to local lumber and paper mills," Gan said. "The close-to-home implication is that wood prices will go up and more jobs will be created locally if we can get more of the production here.
"The illegal products, illegal imports, are what are hurting everyone including the consumers, as they will ultimately bear the associated environmental and social costs," he said. "If we can reduce that, the vitality of our forest and related sectors here, as well as global forest conservation, will improve.
"We are not protecting our industry, but we are trying to create a level playing ground while facilitating the enforcement of laws established in producer and consumer countries alike."
"Forest governance" is a term used to encompass decision making, implementation and associated institutional frameworks in forest-resource management, Gan said. It is extremely complex due to diverse stakeholders within and outside the forest sector. A challenge is cooperation among stakeholders with different or even opposite interests to form the broadest possible coalition to achieve a common goal.
A professor in forest management and economics, Gan recently returned from a sabbatical to Yale University where he cooperated with Dr. Ben Cashore, a professor of environmental governance and political science, and other colleagues on writing papers and making a presentation in Washington, D.C. on forest governance.
Some questions needing answers are: How do we make current policies and institutions more effective? And, what other policies and institutional frameworks to develop, monitor and implement policies are needed to improve the effectiveness of global forest conservation?
For instance, he said, tropical deforestation is an area where "we don't really know how to stop it, even with government organizations. How are we going to help solve the problem through policy making and other alternatives, including non-state market-driven approaches?"
Tropical deforestation accounts for about17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the same as the world's transportation sector, Gan said.
"When you cut a tree down, the carbon is gone if not stored in wood products for a long time period, and that creates greenhouse emissions."
Imported paper and wood products are where some of the problem lies, he said, especially when they come from the tropical forests. When the trees in natural forests are cut for paper and timber production, wildlife and water are impacted and so are the people.
"At the same time, in our country, some paper and lumber mills have closed, in part, because of lower production costs from other countries where adverse environmental and social consequences are not accounted for as adequately as we do here," Gan said.
Gan has developed and used a general equilibrium forest products trade model for the past 10 years to connect the numbers, or economics, of forestry with policy and institutional change.
"The model can track the entire supply chain of wood and paper products from wood harvesting, processing, transportation, to final consumption. With it, we can look at what the consequences are if we do the production here rather than import the paper and wood products from tropical natural forests.
"We can look at which is the better alternative from our perspective and from the global perspective," he said. "And we can suggest how or what policies need to be implemented if the total cost – environmentally and economically – is considered."
He said being able to work with political scientists allowed him to link numbers with institutional framework design.
Gan and others are working to identify political alternatives to create effective policy and institutional mechanisms. One case deals with illegal logging and associated timber trade.
The U.S. Congress recently amended the Lacey Act, which was created to combat trafficking in illegal wildlife, fish and plants. In 2008, it was expanded to illegal timber products, Gan said. This federal regulation is an example of how a consumer country can play a role in tropical forest conservation.
"The U.S. government now is making the importer accountable for what they are doing," he said. "We have the technology to track where the wood products came from. Now what we need is better global cooperation."
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