Forest Protection Strategies

AFI's success in international forest protection efforts comes from our ability to bridge worlds. We take the lessons learned in coordinating wildlands acquisitions in South America and apply them at home in North America. And we take the lessons learned here at home—where many of the world's cutting-edge advocacy, restoration, and responsible land management organizations are based—to our work in South America.

In another bridging of worlds, AFI is developing long-term, viable projects to protect some of the world's last wild places while also helping to support the neighboring communities in stewarding those areas for generations to come. We have learned that rarely does one strategy succeed without the other. If land is acquired with no community support strategy in place to address the economic basis for the initial threat, security for the wildlands is not ensured. Similarly, a community may be able to develop an innovative strategy for restoring its natural surroundings and profiting from that work, but if a wild refugia is not maintained nearby the long-term biodiversity importance of those actions will not be maximized.

The following are some of the principal components of AFI's approach to ancient forest protection.

Acquisitions/Wildlands Philanthropy

With so many critical ecological issues looming today, purchasing wilderness to preserve biomass and biodiversity is an effective tool—a solid application of conservation dollars. AFI is encouraged by the increase in wildlands philanthropy and hopes to be able to facilitate funders' support of additional forest purchases. With our low overhead and broad network, we are able to apply conservation money effectively.

Certain threatened forests, because of outstanding ecosystem values, are not suitable for extractive uses; they must be protected through immediate acquisition. The creation of public and private reserves can cause a conservation ethic to spread to surrounding communities; in many cases, it supports already-ongoing efforts by landowners and communities to steward their lands wisely.

AFI is strategic as it targets unique endangered forests for purchase. In terms of acquisitions in Chile and Ecuador, AFI is sensitive to the fact that foreigners coming into a region to buy land for preservation easily could cause resentment as well as escalation of land prices. Yet, after decades of leading the world in consumption, pollution, and threats to ecosystems through our multinational corporations and their financial influence, North Americans should take the responsibility and initiative to assist other nations in protecting their natural treasures. Our efforts focus on partnering with local organizations in acquisitions.

Community Support

Around the world, those working to safeguard wild places are realizing that protection cannot simply rely on “locking the forests up.” If a solid local community support program is not in place, economic pressures can continue to threaten the forests' security. AFI supports efforts to develop locally appropriate economic strategies to support the people who live in or near core protected lands, in the interest of protecting those places over the long-term. The point is to make these forests worth more standing than lying down. AFI's community support programs work to combine acquisitions, education, ecotourism, permaculture, ecoforestry, and the development of local cottage industries.

The experience of an ancient forest cannot be recreated in a laboratory or on TV. Humanity was born from a relationship with the plant and animal world and depends on it still. The original cathedrals—wild forests—fascinate us. The spiritual and educational experience of being in a primary forest can permanently change one's ecological awareness.

Calculating the economic benefits of protected areas is a step towards no longer pitting humanity against nature. Many have taken the line that saving the environment implies sacrificing the economy. The emerging view, however, is that protected areas and national parks can be significant revenue-earning entities, making an important contribution to local economies. Ecotourism and recreation are major forces in the global economy today; in 1994, for example, nearly a million people visited Chile's protected natural areas. The U.S. National Park Service reports that 11 of its parks each generate close to $1 billion per year in regional revenues.

Yet this tremendous potential is often marginalized in the interest of immediate (albeit more superficial) economic gains offered by such activities as converting forests to cattle ranches, wood chips, and other products. Although ecologically based forestry is slowly making gains, a gap still exists that strategies such as ecotourism can fill. Ecotourism is currently invaluable as a stopgap measure to influence attitudes and policy. Environmentally and culturally responsible tourism can bring social, economic, and environmental benefits to the same plot of land year after year, in contrast to heavy, one-time exploitation. Of course, environmental destruction is being carried out around the world in the name of tourism and ecotourism. Real energy and personal commitment on the part of the ecotourist program and visitors alike are necessary to carry out such a program responsibly.

AFI's ecotourism programs bring people to outstanding and threatened forests in order to counteract the extractive development pressures facing our scarce global forest resources—and to give ecologically minded people educational experiences they will remember throughout their lives. When people are able to experience wildness, they tend to value it more and may be more inclined to help with preservation efforts. We are trying to leverage conservation-oriented public opinion—shaped through education and real-life experiences—to contribute to the protection of our last wild places.

We recognize that there can be such a thing as good forestry. Therefore, as part of our ongoing efforts to protect ancient forests, we are working with partners who neighbor wildlands to develop locally based ecological forest practices on second-growth forests. Such practices should provide stable employment as well as a supply of needed resources; in some cases, proactive management can improve the structure, diversity, and stability of the forest ecosystem. In fact, ecological forestry models aim to restore natural forest diversity. Third-party forest certification under criteria approved by the Forest Stewardship Council is often encouraged. Responsible forestry is no substitute for preservation where threatened or scarce ecosystems are concerned, but it does offer some promising alternatives in the use and maintenance of native forests.

One of AFI's most forward-looking efforts is to encourage the use of permaculture in post-acquisition management plans designed by local communities. We expect, for example, to implement permaculture in the newly acquired Pañacocha tract in Ecuador. The term [a contraction of “permanent” and “culture” (or agriculture)] describes sustainable, self-renewing land management systems that utilize both ancient and modern techniques. Trees and other perennial crops are the consummate permaculture elements. They can live for decades, and they produce essential yields such as fruits, nuts, fodder, shade, windbreaks, and fuel.

Permaculture addresses issues such as local economics, transportation, housing, and energy flows—issues that affect the sustainability of cultures, communities, and landscapes. Essential to permaculture design is the notion of self-reliance. A self-reliant system, over time, reduces its dependence upon external inputs, instead using internally derived inputs. It replaces fossil fuels with renewables, chemical fertilizers with animal and green manure, and chemical pesticides and herbicides with beneficial insects and other biological controls; it avoids technologies that are not available locally.

Corporate Campaigning

Our work to preserve the last ancient forests of the world also needs to challenge the practices destroying them. This usually means exposing the intentions of the corporations that turn ancient forests into short-term profits. In most of these campaigns, AFI is not the front-line organization. However, we remain committed to supporting our campaign partners around the world in halting corporate irresponsibility in our ancient forests and other wild places.

Here in California, we have been working to protect the “Hole in the Headwaters” (an oversight of the infamous Headwaters “deal”) by preventing further timber harvesting by the Maxxam/Pacific Lumber Company and by advocating for public acquisition. In Chile, many controversial U.S. corporations recently have begun operations. For example, both Boise Cascade Corporation (BCC) and Louisiana Pacific have launched immense efforts to convert the country's native forests to chips. BCC's Cascada Chile project proposes to build the world's largest oriented strand board mill and to use hardwood forests as fodder. In Tierra del Fuego, Trillium Corporation has plans to convert the ancient lenga forest to a “sustainable” production forest.