Canadian Forest Service Publications

Moving beyond the concept of “primary forest” as a metric of forest environment quality. 2017. Bernier, P.Y.; Paré, D.; Stinson, G.; Bridge, S.R.J.; Kishchuk, B.E.; Lemprière T.C.; Thiffault, E., Titus, B.D.; Vasbinder, W. Ecol. Appl. 27: 349-354.

Year: 2017

Issued by: Laurentian Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 37697

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Mark record


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been reporting country-level area in primary forests in its Global Forest Resource Assessment since 2005. The FAO definition of a primary forest (naturally regenerated forest of native species where there are no clearly visible indications of human activities and the ecological processes are not significantly disturbed) is generally accepted as authoritative and is being used in policy making. However, problems with this definition undermine our capacity to obtain globally coherent estimates. In addition, the current reporting on primary forests fails to consider the complementarily of non-primary forests toward the maintenance of ecosystem services. These issues undermine the appropriate tracking of changes in primary and non-primary forests, and the assessment of impacts of such changes on ecosystem services. We present the case for an operational reconsideration of the primary forest concept and discuss how alternatives or supplements might be developed.

Plain Language Summary

In this article, the researchers point out that the definition of a primary forest used by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations does not apply to operations and that its interpretation leads to inconsistencies in the data declared by the various countries. They debate the concept and definition of primary forests put forward by the FAO.

With regards to policy development, a narrow interpretation of the primary forest concept can lead to an undervaluation of the ecosystem services and of the biodiversity support offered by non-primary forests that are restored or sustainably managed.

The researchers maintain that there must be a review of the way current forest monitoring worldwide supports evidence-based decision-making aiming to protect forest ecosystem services and biodiversity.

This publication, which focuses on the concept of primary forests at the international scale, targets forest managers, planners and decision makers who contribute to developing standards, guidelines, regulations and laws related to forest management as well as the scientific community and non-governmental organizations.