Forest Degradation: When Is a Forest Degraded?

October 2018

by Angélica Vásquez Grandón, Pablo J. Donoso, and Victor Gerding

Forest Degradation

The concept of forest degradation tends to be addressed in broad terms, and existing definitions are difficult to apply in practice. These definitions are based on a reduction in the production of ecosystem goods and services, but fail to address how, when and to what degree this reduction—which ultimately leads to degradation of a forest—occurs. Generally speaking, degradation is the result of a progressive decline in the structure, composition and functions upon which the vigor and RESILIENCE of a forest is based. A degraded forest is one whose structure,function,species composition,or productivity have been severely modified or permanently lost as a result of damaging human activities. So far, no guidelines have been developed for classification and evaluation of a degraded forest at the stand level, nor are there methodologies for assessing the degree of degradation found. The present work proposes stand-level guidelines for identification of a degraded forest according to a list of structural, compositional and regeneration criteria and characteristics. Emphasis is put on the need for local definitions of forest degradation, and identification of thresholds that determine the points where the processes of degradation finalize into degraded forests. Finally, the present work makes a call to move forwards in sustainable management in order to prevent degradation, and in implementation of restoration or rehabilitation practices in degraded forests.