Intact forest landscape

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An intact forest landscape (IFL) is an unbroken natural landscape of a forest ecosystem and its habitatplant community components, in a current extant forest zone. It is a natural environment with no signs of significant human activity or habitat fragmentation, and of sufficient size to contain, support, and maintain the complex of indigenous biodiversity of viable populations of a wide range of biota genera and species, and their ecological effects.


The term 'intact forest landscape' was developed by a group of environmental non-governmental organizations including Greenpeace, the World Resources Institute, Biodiversity Conservation Center, International Socio-Ecological Union, and Transparent World. IFL has been used in regional and global forest monitoring projects such as, and in scientific forest ecology research.[1][2]


The concept of an intact forest landscape and its technical definition were developed to help create, implement, and monitor policies concerning the human impact on forest landscapes at the regional or country levels.

Technically, an IFL is defined as a territory within today’s global extent of forest cover which contains forest and non-forest ecosystems minimally influenced by human economic activity, with an area of at least 500 km2 (50,000 ha) and a minimal width of 10 km (measured as the diameter of a circle that is entirely inscribed within the boundaries of the territory).

Areas with evidence of certain types of human influence are considered disturbed and consequently not eligible for inclusion in an IFL:

  • Settlements (including a buffer zone of one km);
  • Infrastructure used for transportation between settlements or for industrial development of natural resources, including roads (except unpaved trails), railways, navigable waterways (including seashore), pipelines, and power transmission lines (including in all cases a buffer zone of one km on either side);
  • Agriculture and timber production;
  • Industrial activities during the last 30–70 years, such as logging, mining, oil and gas exploration and extraction, peat extraction.

Areas with evidence of low intensity and old disturbances are treated as subject to “background” influence and are eligible for inclusion in an IFL. Sources of background influence include local shifting cultivation activities, diffuse grazing by domesticated animals, low-intensity selective logging and hunting.

This definition builds on and refines the concept of a frontier forest as has been used by the World Resources Institute.[3]

Conservation value[edit]

Most of the world’s original forests have either been lost to conversion or altered by logging and forest management. Forests that still combine large size with insignificant human influence are becoming increasingly important as their global extent continues to shrink.

Ecosystems are generally better able to support their natural biological diversity and ecological processes the lower their exposure to humans and the greater their area. They are also better able to absorb and recover from disturbance (resistance and resilience).

Fragmentation and loss of natural habitats are the main factors threatening plant and animal species with extinction. Forest biodiversity largely depends on intact forest landscapes. Large, roaming animals (such as forest elephants, great apes, bears, wolves, tigers, jaguars, eagles, deer etc.) especially require that intact forest landscapes be preserved. Loss of natural habitat can occur through introduction of forest monoculture or by even aged timber management, which are also destructive of biodiversity[4] and wildlife abundance. For example, many wildlife species such as the wild turkey depend upon variegation of tree ages and sizes for its optimal sub-canopy flight;[5] forests that have been managed for even aged composition fail to achieve abundance values of the wild turkey and many other organisms.

Large natural forest areas are also important for maintaining ecological processes and supplying ecosystem services like water and air purification, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, erosion and flood control.

The conservation value of forest landscapes that are free from human disturbance is therefore high, although it varies among regions. At the same time the cost of conserving large unpopulated areas is often low. The same factors that have kept them from being developed, such as remoteness and low economic value, also help to reduce the cost of protecting them.[6]

Several international initiatives to protect forest biodiversity (CBD), to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (IGBP, REDD), and to stimulate use of sustainable forest management practices (FSC) require that large natural forest areas be preserved. Mapping, conservation and monitoring of intact forest landscapes is a therefore a task of great global significance.

IFL mapping initiatives[edit]

The World’s Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs)[7]

Several attempts have been made since the mid-to-late 1990s to map the remaining extent of large natural forests. At the global level, these include: Wilderness Areas map by McCloskey and Spalding,[8] Human Footprint map by Sanderson et al.;[9] and Frontier Forests map by Bryant et al.[3] These efforts have generally combined already existing maps and information to identify areas of low human impact at a coarse scale, typically no finer than 1:16 million.

The IFL mapping initiatives differ from these by using the IFL definition mentioned above, by using information from satellites in addition to other sources, and by producing results at a much finer scale, approximately 1:1 million.

The first regional IFL map was presented by Greenpeace Russia in 2001,[6] covering Northern European Russia. The report also contains a complete description of the IFL concept and mapping algorithm.

A number of regional IFL maps were presented in 2002–2006, using similar methods, by a group of scientists and environmental non-governmental organizations under the framework of Global Forest Watch - an initiative of the World Resources Institute.[10]

Still using the same method, a global IFL map was prepared in 2005–2006 under the leadership of Greenpeace, with contributions from: Biodiversity Conservation Center, International Socio-Ecological Union, and Transparent World (Russia), Luonto Liitto (Finnish Nature League), Forest Watch Indonesia, and Global Forest Watch.[7][11]

The global IFL map relies on publicly available high spatial resolution satellite imagery (provided by GLCF and USGS) and on a simple and consistent set of criteria (see Definition).

Within today’s global extent of forest ecosystems, IFLs are estimated to cover 23% (13.1 million km2). Two biomes hold almost all of these IFLs: dense tropical and subtropical forests (45%) and boreal forests (44%), while the proportion of IFLs in temperate broadleaf and mixed forests is very small. IFLs remain in 66 of the 149 countries that that could potentially have them. Three of these countries — Canada, Russia, and Brazil — contain 64% of the total IFL area. 19% of the global IFL area is under some form of protection, but only 10% is strictly protected, i.e., belongs to IUCN protected areas categories I–III.

Practical implementation of the IFL concept[edit]

The concept of an intact forest landscape is a useful tool for making, implementation, and monitoring of policy in the realms of sustainable forest management, conservation and climate, as shown by the following examples.

Forest degradation can be assessed through IFL monitoring.

The distinction between intact and non-intact forest landscapes can be used to account for losses of carbon from forest degradation, as proposed by Mollicone et al.[12] The global IFL map[13] provides a geographically explicit baseline with several advantages:

  • it provides a globally consistent and highly detailed snapshot of the ecological integrity of the world’s forest biomes at the beginning of the new millennium (approximately year 2000);
  • the method that was used to create the map can easily be adapted into a monitoring method that uses high spatial resolution satellite images;
  • its high precision and fine scale make it a meaningful baseline for assessment of small-scale disturbances that can be detected by remotely sensed data.

Nature conservation strategies can be formulated using IFL maps.

Conservation of large IFLs is a robust and cost-effective way to protect biodiversity and maintain ecological integrity and should therefore be an important component of a global conservation strategy. The remoteness and large size of these areas provide the best guarantee for their continued intactness. Withdrawing remaining intact areas from the production base would lead to small or negligible economic loss.

Russian NGOs have, for example, used IFL maps to argue that the most valuable of the remaining intact natural landscapes of Northern European Russia and Far East be preserved, and to propose several new national parks: Kutsa and Hibiny (Murmansk Region), Kalevalsky (Karelia Republic) and Onezhskoye Pomorye (Arkhangelsk Region).

Sustainable forest management can be underpinned by IFL maps.

Several boreal countries are using the IFL concept in the context of forest certification. One of the categories of High Conservation Value Forest used by the Forest Stewardship Council[14] is analogous to that of IFLs. The formulation used in the Canadian and Russian national FSC standards - globally, nationally, or regionally significant forest landscapes, un-fragmented by permanent infrastructure and of a size to maintain viable populations of most species - calls for IFL maps for implementation. IFLs are directly mentioned among other categories of High Conservation Value Forest in the FSC Controlled Wood standard.[15]

Several forest products retailers have committed not to use wood from IFLs unless intactness values are preserved, e.g., IKEA[16] and Lowe’s,[17] or to invest only in companies that maintain such values, e.g., Bank of America.[18] The companies use regional IFL maps to implement these policies.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Intact Forest Landscapes
  2. ^ see References.
  3. ^ a b Bryant D., Nielsen D., Tangley L. (1997) The last frontier forests: ecosystems and economies on the edge. World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.
  4. ^ Philip Joseph Burton. 2003. Towards sustainable management of the boreal forest 1039 pages
  5. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2008. Wild turkey: Meleagris gallopavo,, ed. N. Stromberg
  6. ^ a b Yaroshenko A., Potapov P., Turubanova S. (2001) The Last Intact Forest Landscapes of Northern European Russia. Greenpeace Russia and Global Forest Watch, Moscow.
  7. ^ a b [1] Potapov P., Yaroshenko A., Turubanova S., Dubinin M., Laestadius L., Thies C., Aksenov D., Egorov A., Yesipova Y., Glushkov I., Karpachevskiy M., Kostikova A., Manisha A., Tsybikova E., Zhuravleva I. (2008) Mapping the World’s Intact Forest Landscapes by Remote Sensing. Ecology and Society 13 (2):51
  8. ^ McCloskey J.M., Spalding H. (1989) A reconnaissance level inventory of the amount of wilderness remaining in the world. Ambio 18(4):221-227
  9. ^ Sanderson E.W., Jaiteh M., Levy M.A., Redford K.H., Wannebo A.V., Woolmer G. (2002) The human footprint and the last of the wild. BioScience 52(10):891-904
  10. ^ Global Forest watch reports
  11. ^ Greenpeace (2006) Roadmap to Recovery: The World's Last Intact Forest Landscapes
  12. ^ Mollicone D.; Achard F.; Federici S.; Eva H.D.; Grassi G.; Belward A.; Raes F.; Seufert G.; Stibig H.-J.; Matteucci G.; Schulze E.-D. (2007). "An incentive mechanism for reducing emissions from conversion of intact and non-intact forests.". Climatic Change. 83 (4): 477–493. doi:10.1007/s10584-006-9231-2. 
  13. ^ Potapov P.; Yaroshenko A.; Turubanova S.; Dubinin M.; Laestadius L.; Thies C.; Aksenov D.; Egorov A.; Yesipova Y.; Glushkov I.; Karpachevskiy M.; Kostikova A.; Manisha A.; Tsybikova E.; Zhuravleva I. (2008). "Mapping the World's Intact Forest Landscapes by Remote Sensing.". Ecology and Society. 13 (2): 51. 
  14. ^ Forest Stewardship Council (2004) FSC International standard. FSC principles and criteria for forest stewardship (FSC-STD-01-001). Bonn, Germany
  15. ^ Forest Stewardship Council (2006) FSC standard for company evaluation of FSC Controlled Wood (FSC-STD-40-005). Bonn, Germany
  16. ^ IKEA Trading und Design AG (2005) IWAY Standard
  17. ^ Lowe’s (2008) Lowe's Policy on the Wood Contained in its Products
  18. ^ Bank of America Corporation (2008) Bank of America forests practices - global corporate investment bank policy

External links[edit]