Hunting for Answers: Well-managed Production Forests Important for Biodiversity
Though a hunter’s preference for large game can put pressure on fragile forest ecosystems, new research has found that well-managed production forests can act as wildlife reservoirs- with controlled hunting in these areas enabling the promotion of biodiversity and improved community livelihoods.
“Hunting is an ancient human practice, and it won’t change any time soon. Therefore, the way to preserve the conservation and economic value of forest ecosystems is to manage hunting so it is sustainable,” said Robert Nasi, scientist with the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and co-author of the paper in Tropical Forest Update.
With logging and mining industries in the tropics enabling easier access to the forests by forging new roads, the hunting of forest dwelling fauna has been transformed from occasional food sourcing to a commercial enterprise. Hunters prefer to target large animals because they provide more valuable meat and products, but these animals also hold active and important roles in spreading seed, balancing food webs, and ensuring plant diversity through their grazing patterns.
But wildlife harvesting of this kind is unsustainable; taking out key players in the food chain, impacting the health and resilience of forest ecosystems, and threatening the food security and livelihoods of human communities that depend on forest resources.
“When these large animals are hunted to local extinction, it can have a dramatic effect on the forest ecosystem as a whole. For example, if predators such as big cats are removed, unhindered prey populations and their browsing and grazing can completely unbalance forest vegetation,” said Nasi.
Conducted by the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat, the research explored the role of wildlife managed sustainably for both environmental and economic value, particularly in tropical production forests.
“Sustainable management could work by ensuring production workers and their families have affordable meat alternatives, limiting access to forest roads, and making roads that are no longer used impassable for vehicles. It could also be by formalising hunting in certain areas and giving original inhabitants priority access, while banning unselective hunting methods such as snare and trap hunting,” explained Nasi.
While it is true that human activities in forests can have large impacts on biodiversity, the authors found that well-managed production forests can actually act as wildlife reservoirs, with those located close to protected areas making important additions to the total conservation area.
They also found that the way private sectors and industries manage their tropical production forests can have a large role in promoting the sustainable use of wildlife.
“It is better when local stakeholders are responsible for wildlife management, since they have a vested interest in the survival of the species. These communities need to be empowered and supported by government and industry to make sure they can exercise their rights,” explains Nasi.
To both conserve and sustainably use forest resources, there needs to be collaboration across government, private and public sectors – for effective monitoring of hunting, for landscape-scale management, for public awareness, and for law enforcement.
“Existing wildlife cannot sustainably support current or future human livelihood needs, so in the long term, there is no substitute for effectively managing wildlife for protection and production.”