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Plant a Tree

Plantation forests now comprise around 135 million ha globally, with annual plantation afforestation and reforestation rates nearing 10% of total area. Some 90% of plantation forests have been established primarily to provide industrial wood, and their relative global importance in this role is increasing rapidly. Most of the remaining 10% of plantation forests were established primarily to supply fuel or wood for non-industrial use. About 75% of the existing plantation forest estate is established in temperate regions, but it is in the tropics that the rate of expansion is greatest. The expanding tropical plantation forest estate includes trees grown primarily as agricultural plantation crops and which now also supply wood to forest industries. Almost all existing plantation forests were established and are managed as even-aged monocultures; species and interspecific hybrids of a few genera dominate plantation forestry worldwide. Effective research and development, based on appropriate genetic resources and good silviculture, are the foundations of successful plantation forestry production. Resolving relatively fundamental issues remain the priority in many young plantation programmes; in more advanced programmes, the application of more sophisticated technologies – particularly in biotechnology and processing – is necessary to maintain improvements in production. Many plantation forests, particularly in the tropics, are not yet achieving their productive potential. The sustainability of plantation forestry is an issue of wide interest and concern. The evidence from industrial plantation forestry suggests that biological sustainability, in terms of wood yield, is likely to be sustainable provided good practice is maintained. The relative benefits and costs of plantation forestry in broader environmental terms, and in terms of its social impacts, are the subject of greater controversy, and pose the greatest challenge to plantation foresters as we approach the millennium. Our experience with plantation forestry as it has developed this century offers us an excellent platform for rising to these challenges.