A new study conducted by the Rainforest Alliance found that World Heritage Sites and other protected areas benefit when neighboring forests achieve Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. According to study co-author Deanna Newsom, “The FSC certification process required forestry operations located close to World Heritage Sites to take many actions that help protect the habitat of threatened and endangered wildlife and ward off invasive species. Other actions — such as hiring local people — reduce incentive for illicit activities within park boundaries, such as illegal logging and wildlife poaching.”
FSC requirements for certified forests that were found to benefit World Heritage Sites include the identification and conservation of high conservation value forests and habitats for threatened and endangered species, the prevention of fires and the movement of invasive species, decent pay for workers, the availability of jobs for local communities, access to the harvesting of non-timber forest products, and access to forests for cultural practices and traditional rituals.
“The key to conserving any area — whether it be a working forest or a World Heritage Site — is to ensure that community members have a direct interest in protecting it,” noted Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance. “Through FSC certification, local communities learn about the importance of protecting their natural resources and are provided with the financial incentive to do so.”
FSC certification requirements are widely considered the “gold standard” for sustainable forest management, and the Rainforest Alliance is the leading FSC certifier worldwide. The recent study conducted by Deanna Newsom and David Hughell evaluated nine FSC/Rainforest Alliance Certified forestry operations located within 12 miles of a World Heritage Site. These include: Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks and Waterton Glacier International Peace Park on the Canada/US border), Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra in Indonesia, Central Sikhote-Amin in Siberia and Tikal National Park in Guatemala.
Since the adoption of UNESCO World Heritage Convention in 1972, the designation ‘World Heritage Site’ has been awarded to 911 properties of outstanding natural or cultural importance. According to the 2012 watch list recently published by the World Monument Fund, 67 World Heritage sites in 41 countries are currently threatened.
By targeting the areas around World Heritage Sites and other protected areas for FSC certification, the social and environmental benefits of certified forestry can extend beyond the forest’s boundaries and into nearby forests and communities, giving a measure of extra protection to some of the world’s most precious natural sites.