An Operational Framework for Defining and Monitoring Forest Degradation

An Operational Framework for Defining and Monitoring Forest Degradation


The article discusses how the current definitions of forest degradation do not account for certain factors that should be included, and further presents that the monitoring of forests is a much more holistic means of determining the state and the process (as a continuum of space and/or time) of degradation, which in turn can allow for much better restoration treatment options.

Goals & Methods

In order to establish criteria for monitoring forest degradation certain considerations were listed: the relationship to the main causes of forest degradation; the relationship of to the provision of ecosystem services (as defined by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment); relevance to variables reported in the Global Forest Resources Assessment (e.g., FAO 2010); potential for the application of remote sensing for monitoring; and relevance to reporting requirements for sustainable forest management (SFM), as required because athough SFM and forest degradation are opposing concepts, several SFM criteria can also be degradation criteria. Based on the considerations, the author establishes and explores, in detail, five criteria to determine degradation: 1) productivity, 2) biological diversity, 3) unusual disturbances, 4) carbon storage, and 5) protective functions via a reference or baseline condition and a monitoring frequency of 3-5 years. Meanwhile, recognizing that the challenge would be having the right reference or baseline condition as a benchmark in order to have useful monitoring data. 

Conclusions & Takeaways

The conclusion was that there are many organizations that are committed to the restoration of degraded forestland, and there are many ways to define forest degradation.  However, it can be understood that forest degradation is not simply a state, but also a process that is continuing over space and time, and there are better steps that can be taken to determine treatment options.  So, if there were a way to better define the degradation of a particular forest via reference or baseline conditions or benchmarks, with special attention paid to certain considerations, a monitoring of said forest can be implemented, which would inform the treatment options.  Ultimately, all of this can lead to a better understand of funding requirements, which will always be a key component to restoration.


Thompson ID, Guariguata MR, Okabe K, et al. An Operational Framework for Defining and Monitoring Forest Degradation. Ecology and Society. 2013;18. doi:10.5751/es-05443-180220.


  • Canadian Forest Service, Marie, ON, Canada