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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

January 25, 2002

World experts call for a forest health index

The world needs an ecological capital index to help decision-makers reverse a forest crisis that threatens humanity's future, according to a group of world experts who met this week at the University of Guelph. The planet has already lost about 40 per cent of its green mantle and the "human caterpillar" is eating away at the remainder. "Without better measures, we cannot make better decisions to protect and manage forests in our own self-interest," said former Swedish Prime Minister Ola Ullsten, co-chair of the two-day meeting.

The meeting announced a global network of research centers to create a Forest Capital Index that will measure both the quantity and quality of the trees and their ecosystems. It will be a balance sheet for forests, a key part of the living environment that supports all human activity. Forests not only provide wood and paper, but a wide array of critical ecosystem services ranging from wildlife habitat to water supply to storage of carbon. The role of forests in soaking up carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is a key part of the world's strategy in dealing with climate change.

The index will pull together a huge amount of information, condensing it into a series of indicators, indices leading to a single measurement. The goal is to paint a clear image of the scope, scale and seriousness of changes, showing where forest and land use practices are pushing us into the danger zones. The index will not only tally past damages, but also to act as an early warning signal for decision-makers to help them head avoid further losses. Each country in the world will be encouraged to develop its own national index.

David Rapport, co-chair of the meeting and a professor at Guelph and The University of Western Ontario, said the index will be a tool that governments, companies and others can use to help them move to the sustainable management of forests. "It will become a major weapon in the war against forest destruction," he said.

The meeting drew 20 people from major forestry and environmental institutions around the world, including the UN Environment Programme, Swedish University of Agricultural Science, Yale University, World Resources Institute, UN University, International Institute for Sustainable Development, Woods Hole Research Center, M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, University of Toronto and Trent University.

The index was a recommendation of the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development in 1999. That report warned that we are mining the woods. In many parts of the world, we are clearing the woods and diminishing the quality of remaining forests. Additional information about the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development can be found at


Prof. David Rapport
School of Rural Planning and Development
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 8476

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