Topic 1: Indicators Used in Monitoring the Economic, Social and Spiritual Values Associated with Forests


Throughout history, the most important forest product has been wood. While the forest provides many other goods and services, many of which are examined in this module, it is wood that has received by far the greatest attention. Several approaches have been taken to wood extraction, ranging from the completely unregulated removal of wood, often associated with the destruction of the forest and conversion to other forms of land use, to the carefully regulated management of the trees within a stand to ensure the long-term sustainable yield of timber. The focus on wood has in the past resulted in other benefits being neglected, but there is increasing interest to ensuring a better balance between the economic benefits of forests and the other, often less tangible, benefits.

While most forestry has been concerned with the management of forests to provide wood for timber, globally the greatest demand for wood is as firewood. Some forests are managed specifically for firewood production, but this is generally rare. Firewood is often collected as a subsistence product, and its valuation is therefore difficult. Consequently, most attempts to assess the economic contribution of wood from forests concentrate primarily on timber and, to a lesser extent, fibre.

Non-timber forest products is a catch-all term intended to include all forest products other than timber. You will sometimes see this referred to as non-wood forest products, as there is some debate over the inclusion of products such as firewood and bark as non-timber forest products. There is also debate over whether water and clean air constitute products – they are more often considered as services, and that is how they are dealt with in this course. Mineral products, such as gravel, are generally not included, as they may equally come from land that is forested or not forested, and are not dependent on the presence of forests for their production.

Many non-timber forest products are harvested on a small-scale, although in the cases of rattan and bamboo, production may be substantial. A variety of other products, especially firewood, may be harvested on a large-scale, although generally not with the level of equipment associated with industrial timber extraction.

So what exactly do non-timber forest products include? There are actually a whole range of products that come from forest ecosystems. Rattan and bamboo have already been mentioned, but there are many other plant and animal products.  These include many different types of plants used as foods, herbs, spices and medicinal products, animals (used as food, traditional medicines, clothing, and in cultural regalia), insects (used as directly (many larvae) or indirectly (e.g., honey) as food, traditional medicines and for products such as dyes), foliage (used as food for animals, as roofing and for weaving), and a whole suite of other products.

The inclusion of forest ecosystem services in sustainable forest management is a major development that has occurred over the past 30 years. It has become sufficiently important that an entire course has been devoted to it: “Sustainable use of forest ecosystem services”. Consequently, the material presented in this module is intended purely as an introduction to the topic: to understand the topic fully, you will need to take the course.

Some of the most difficult judgements in sustainable forest management surround the trade-offs between different products and services. It is not possible for a single area of forest to meet every demand, and so a balance has to be achieved. In today’s society, the trade-offs are frequently based on economics. The most valuable use of the forest (which is usually extraction of timber) has tended to win. However, increasingly, there is a feeling that other products and services should be given greater attention, and this is particularly the case when control of the forest is changed from a centralized authority to local control.

The social, cultural and spiritual needs of people in relation to forests is a fascinating area, deserving of a course in itself. Ever since records began, forests have been important to people’s lives. However, the relationships between people and forests have changed over time. For example, the rise of Christianity displaced many of the original beliefs that were held about forest gods and spirits. Many of the social, cultural and spiritual values associated with forests reflect the needs of indigenous forest-dependent peoples. Much of the knowledge associated with this is embodied in traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), and there is increasing pressure on forest managers to take TEK into account in forest planning. Particular stands may be very significant to local people: they may be considered as sacred, or may have strong historical associations that far outweigh economic value that they might have. Particular trees may have names, such as the massive kauri tree (Agathis australis) in New Zealand known as Tane Mahuta, or any of a number of giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) in the Sierra Nevada of California that have been named.

In the presentations associated with this topic, we will use Australia as a case study, and we will examine the indicators that are used in Australia for this criterion of sustainable forest management. The indicators used will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as will their relative emphasis. However, the aim of this topic is to show you the sorts of factors that need to be considered when practicing sustainable forest management.

Video Lectures

5.1.1 Introduction to socio-economic benefits

5.1.2 Production and consumption in Australia

5.1.3 Investment in the forest sector in Australia

5.1.4 Recreation and tourism in Australia

5.1.5 Social, cultural and spiritual needs in Australia

5.1.6 Employment in Australia


Textbook Reading:

  • Chapter 9, 10, and 11 of the course text:
    Innes, J., & Tikina, A. (Eds.). (2014). Sustainable forest management: From principles to practice. London: Earthscan Publications. ISBN: 1844077241

Further Reading:

Forest economics

  • Bowes, M.D., & Krutilla, J.V. (1985). Multiple-use management: the economics of public forestlands. In A.V. Kneese & J. L. Sweeney (Eds.), Handbook of Natural Resource and Energy Economics, 2 (pp531-569). Elsevier Science Publishers. Retrieved from
  • Hyde, W.F. (2012). The global economics of forestry. New York: Routledge. ISBN-10:0415518288; ISBN-13: 978-0415518284
  • Sabogal, C., Gariguata, M.R., Broadhead, J., Lescuyer, G., Savilaakso, S., Essoungou, J.N., & Sist, P. (2013). Multiple-use forest management in the humid tropics: Opportunities and challenges for sustainable forest management. FAO Forestry Paper 173. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved from
  • Kuman, P. (Ed.) (2010). The economics of ecosystems and biodiversity ecological and economic foundations. London and Washington: Earthscan. Retrieved from
    The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity ( provides an important introduction to the economic values of ecosystem services. In particular, you should read Chapter 5 of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Ecological and Economic Foundations, edited by Pushpam Kumar, at the above book link.

Non-timber forest products

  • Delang, C. O. (2006). The Role of Wild Food Plants in Poverty Alleviation and Biodiversity Conservation in Tropical Countries. Progress in Development Studies 6(4): 275-286.
  • Emery, M. R. & McLain, R. J. (Eds.). (2001). Non-timber forest products: Medicinal herbs, fungi, edible fruits and nuts, and other natural products from the forest. Binghampton, New York: Food Products Press. ISBN-10: 1560220899; ISBN-13: 978-1560220893
  • Vira, B., Wildburger, C., & Mansourian, S. (Eds.). (2015). Forests, trees and landscapes for food security and nutrition: A global assessment report. Vienna: International Union of forest Research Organizations (IUFRO). Retrieved from
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2015, April 16). Non-wood forest products. Retrieved from
    See also, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization website dealing with non-timber forest products at the above link.

Social and cultural values

  • Perlin, J. (2005). A forest journey: The story of wood and civilization (2nd ed.). Woodstock, Vermont: The Countryman Press. ISBN-10: 0881506761; ISBN-13: 978-0881506761
    A classic account of the history of the links between forests and humankind.
  • Watkins, C. (2014). Trees, woods and forests: A social and cultural history. London: Reaktion Books. ISBN-10: 1780233736; ISBN-13: 978-1780233734
    A fascinating account of the social and cultural aspects of European forests.

Other publications on this topic

  • Hecht, S.B., Morrison, K.D. & Padoch, C. (Eds.). (2014).The social lives of forests: Past, present, and future of woodland resurgence. Chicago : University of Chicago Press. ISBN-10: 0226322661; ISBN-13: 978-0226322667
  • Lee, R.G., & Field, D.R. (Eds.). (2005). Communities and forests: Where people meet the land. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press. ISBN-10: 0870710583; ISBN-13: 9780870710582
  • Watkins, C. (2014). Trees, woods and forests: A social and cultural history. London: Reaktion Books. ISBN-10:1780233736; ISBN-13: 978-1780233734

Management of forests by Indigenous peoples, including examination of Indigenous rights

  • Kawharu, M. (Ed.). (2002). Whenua: Managing our resources. Auckland: Reed Books. ISBN-10: 0790008580; ISBN-13: 9780790008585
  • Langton, M., Mazel, O., Plamer, L., Shain, K., & Tehan, M. (Eds.). (2006). Settling with indigenous people: Modern treaty and agreement-making. Riverwood, NSW: Federation Press. ISBN-10:1862876185; ISBN-13: 978-1862876187
  • Russell-Smith, J., Whitehead, P., & Cooke, P. (Eds.). (2009). Culture, ecology and economy of fire management in North Australian savannas. Rekindling the wurrk tradition. Collingwood: CSIRO Publishing. ISBN-10: 0643094024; ISBN-13: 9780643094024
  • Stevenson, M.G., & Natcher, D.C. (Eds.). (2009). Changing the culture of forestry in Canada: Building effective institutions for Aboriginal engagement in sustainable forest management. Edmonton: CCI Press. ISBN: 1896445446, 9781896445441
  • Tindall, D.B., Trosper, R.L., & Perreault, P. (Eds.). (2013). Aboriginal peoples and forest lands in Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press. ISBN-10:0774823348; ISBN-13: 978-0774823340
  • Venne, S.H. (1998). Our elders understand our rights: Evolving international law regarding indigenous peoples. Penticton, BC: Theytus Books. ISBN-10:0919441661; ISBN-13: 978-0919441668

Public participation

  • O’Hara, P. (2010). Enhancing stakeholder participation in national forest programmes: A training manual. Rome: National Forest Programme Facility & Food and Agirculture Organization of the UN. Retrieved from


Module V - Topic 1: Self-test

Quiz Description:

The following self-test quiz is designed to check your understanding of important learning concepts for this topic. The quiz contains ten multiple choice questions. There is no time limit for you to take the quiz and you may attempt to take it as many times as you like. After you click the Submit button, you will see your Grade, number of Correct Answers, your answers, and the Answer Key for each question.

Quiz Instructions:

While you are taking the quiz, we advise you not referring to any course materials. After you Submit your answers, you may self-reflect the missing points, review relevant contents as necessary, and retake the quiz again until you get the full points

Answer the following questions to see how well you have remembered what you learnt in this topic: