Editor: Seppo Kellomäki, Professor Emeritus, University of Eastern Finland

Forests and other biomass resources

Everything you need to know about the sustainable forest management. 



The global forest area is nearly 4 billion hectares. This is about 30 % of the global land area, and it contains a large part of the biomass in terrestrial ecosystems. Woody vegetation forming forests include several hundred thousand tree species, mainly deciduous ones, though coniferous tree species dominate the landscape in the northern hemisphere. The lifespan of trees varies from dozens of years to several thousands of years. Forests include a diverse range of formations, from high-density tropical rain forests to less dense northern or high-altitude boreal forests. Thermal conditions are the primary distinguishing factors between different forest formations, representing tropical, temperate and boreal forests from the Equator toward the poles.

Forests are of vital importance for human welfare, and forests are used to produce a wide range of goods and services. In this context, forestry includes the production of tangible benefits like timber, energy biomass and wildlife. Forests can also provide intangible benefits like scenic beauty, wind reduction, and urban noise absorption. A unique feature of forest-based production is that it requires a small external input to control the production of goods and services, because the natural processes exert the most control. Forest-based production is normally integrated; i.e. the same forest land functions for timber production and game management, or for producing other environmental benefits such as the conservation of various environmental values. Forests thus have several functions for people: ecological, social, economic and cultural. These main dimensions are the basis of sustainable forest management, which aims at providing future generations with the same goods and services from the forest ecosystem as the current generation has access to.

The sustainable use of forests has been a main principle in forestry since the early 1950s, but is still a challenge. From the early 1990s, the sustainability of forestry has attracted growing interest in international forestry policies. In this context, the sustainable management and use of forest land refer to the use of forests and forest land to maintain the biodiversity, productivity, and regeneration capacity of forest ecosystems to meet the ecological, economic, and social functions of forests without damaging other ecosystems. In integrated forest production, a main problem is that only some forest-based goods and services have a market value as timber has, whereas the remainder have no market value or a value that is difficult to define, such as that of scenic beauty. This incompatibility between different goods and services often remains unresolved, creating problems and conflicts in the management of forest resources for different purposes. The concepts of multipurpose forestry, multiple use of forests, and multifunctional forestry emphasise the need to integrate different management objects in a balanced way in order to satisfy varying needs in a sustainable manner.

Objectives and scope of this theme

This theme will outline the management of ecosystems and forests and the sustainable management of forests for producing timber and biomass in ecologically, technically and economically feasible ways. The focus of the theme is on forests and forestry in the boreal and temperate zones, but the discussion is extended to cover other parts of the world whenever appropriate in order to scale local findings into a larger context.

The theme is organised into nine sections

Introduction to biomass resources
This section discusses the background of the theme.

Trees, forest and forest ecosystems
This section addresses the concept of the forest ecosystem.

Global forest resources
The main features of the world’s forests are addressed and also, the impacts of climate change on the dynamics of forests ecosystems and forests are explored.

Structure and properties of wood and woody biomass
This section outlines the technical and chemical properties of wood and tree biomass and their effects on wood-based items.

Forest inventory and planning
The properties of wood are species-specific, but they are substantially affected by management, and these aspects are discussed in this section from a planning point of view.

Management of forest ecosystems
A silvicultural point of view in management is discussed. Management is put into an ecological context, which allows analysing how to respond in a proper way to climate change in management and how forest ecosystems are sequestrating carbon.

Timber procurement 
This section discusses the key elements in timber procurement incl. harvesting, storing and transporting. In addition, damages to the timber and environmental impacts of timber harvesting are addressed.

Timber measurement
Timber measurement is needed to determine the quantity and quality parameters of timber. This section addresses the key concepts, methods and further development prospects for measuring timber.

Wood markets and cost of wood
This section reviews the wood market dynamics and costs related to the wood procurement and production.

Global forest related policies and governance
The forests and forestry are put into a global context, with a discussion of the global environmental and forest policy and the importance of forest industries, forestry and forest clusters in the world economy.