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close this bookEcotourism and other Services Derived from Forests in the Asia- Pacific Region: Outlook to 2010. (FAO - Forestry, 1997)
close this folder2.1 Categories Of Services
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentEcological services
View the documentEconomic services
View the documentSociocultural services
View the documentScenic and landscape services and values
View the documentThe relative importance of the various services


Broadly speaking, services of forests can be categorized according to a number of criteria that incorporate specific processes. It should be noted that these categories are not exhaustive, nor are they discrete.

Ecological services

There are a number of components to the broad range of ecological services that forests provide. According to Sousson, Shrestha and Uprety (1995), these include (c.f., World Bank 1997):

· the regulation of water regimes by intercepting rainfall and regulating its flow through the hydrological system;

· the maintenance of soil quality and the provision of organic materials through leaf and branch fall;

· the limiting of erosion and protection of soil from the direct impact of rainfall;

· modulating climate; and

· being key components of biodiversity both in themselves and as a habitat for other species.

Whilst these services are important, this report is more concerned with those that have a more specifically human dimension: economic and sociocultural services.

Economic services

Clearly, forests form the basis of a variety of industries including timber, processed wood and paper, rubber, and fruits. However, they also contain products that are necessary to the viability of rural agricultural communities. These products include fuel and fodder, game, fruits, building materials, medicines and herbs (Sousson, Shrestha and Uprety 1995).

Additionally, grazing occurs within forests, and local woodlands are used to satisfy basic needs. Rural people also grow crops on temporary plots within the forest, often on a rotational basis. These forest products contribute to a diverse rural economy and security when times are difficult. Therefore, the loss of these resources undermines the viability of agricultural practices in the developing world (Sousson, Shrestha and Uprety 1995).

Sociocultural services

Knudston and Suzuki (1992) have explored the protective function of culture within a comparative perspective. Others note that, for millennia, humanity has had a social and cultural basis for protecting nature. Forests are home to millions of people world-wide, and many of these people are dependent on the forests for their survival (Sousson, Shrestha and Uprety 1995). In addition, many people have strong cultural and spiritual attachments to the forests. Therefore, forest destruction undermines the capacities of these people to survive economically, culturally and spiritually.

The issue of indigenous knowledge is also important. Many local people understand how to conserve and use forest resources. It has been argued that forests currently are being destroyed, in part, because of the non-forest dwellers’ lack of knowledge about how best to exploit the vast diversity of medicines, foods, natural fertilizers and pesticides that forests contain (Posey 1993).

Spirituality is important as well. The Hindu viewpoint on nature, for example, is based on a recognition that nature and its orders of life (such as trees, forests and animals) are all bound to each other. Thus we can understand services of forests within the Hindu cosmology to include religious values. Other indigenous cosmologies involve a highly-important role for forests and other components of the natural world. Thus, indigenous belief systems have a major protective role in a culture’s relationships with the natural world, and in nature’s relationship with a culture.

Scenic and landscape services and values

This more general set of services highlights ideas of aesthetics and beauty as components of services of forests. For example, the Himalayas provide a service within this context, and one within which ecotourism operates. From a tourist’s perspective, these values may be high on their decision making priorities, which would indicate protection of these services are important for ecotourism. Scenic and landscape values also may be important for residents.

The relative importance of the various services

It is extremely difficult to compare the importance of the various services provided by forests. In part, this is due to the fact that there is no universally accepted common metric that can be used in such measurement. However, economists and others have tried to measure various services, economic and otherwise, using the metric of economic value. It should be stressed that non-economists often oppose the use of this metric and that the metric requires strong assumptions. Nonetheless, estimates of the economic value of various services of forests does provide one indication of their importance relative to each other and to timber production and non-timber forest products.

Recently, Costanza et al. (1997) estimated the economic value of various services of forests at the global level. These values should be considered extremely rough estimates 1) because of the assumptions involved in their calculation and 2) because they are based on global, rather than regional, evaluations. Their estimates of annual economic value for services of the forest are:


Value (1994 US$ ha-1 yr-1)

Nutrient cycling


Climate regulation


Raw materials


Erosion control


Waste treatment




Food production


Genetic resources


Soil formation


Water supply


Disturbance regulation


Water regulation


Biological control




Total value ($ ha-1 yr-1)


Though these estimates should be treated with caution and represent value that partly accrues to people living outside the region, they indicate the significant importance of services of forests.