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| Last Updated:: 08/11/2023

What is forest?





For centuries, there has been a debate about what a forest can look like and how to define it. Forest: Derived from the Latin word ‘Foris’ = ‘outside’ means simply wild or uncultivated land regardless of cover or outside of inhabited areas.


From the “land cover” perspective, forests are viewed as ecosystems or vegetation types supporting unique assemblages of plants and animals.
But from the “land use” perspective, forests are landholdings that are legally designated as forests, regardless of their current vegetation. Within this construct, a legally designated “forest” can actually be devoid of trees, at least temporarily. No single operational forest definition can, or should, embody all of these dimensions. Forests can be seen as a source of timber products, an ecosystem composed of trees along with myriad forms of biological diversity, a home for indigenous people, a repository for carbon storage, a source of multiple ecosystem services, as social-ecological systems, or as all of the above.




The inner circle shows how a forest can be viewed through different lenses, emanating from the different management objectives shown in the middle circle. Each objective provides a perspective from which specific definitions are created. The outermost circle describes institutions whose mission is associated with each management objective and forest definition. [1]



1) The American Society of Foresters defines a forest as 'a plant association predominantly of trees or other woody vegetation occupying an extensive area of land'.
2)  An area set aside for the production of timber and other forest produce or maintained under woody vegetation for certain indirect benefits which it provides, e.g., climatic or protective.
Simply put, it is "a plant community predominantly of trees and other woody vegetation, usually with a closed canopy”.
“An area of land proclaimed to be a forest under a forest law"
3) The India State of Forest Report 2011 has redefined forests as "a land area of at least 0.05 ha, with a minimum tree crown cover of 15% and a tree height of at least 2 m".
“Forest Cover” includes “all lands with more than 1 ha of area with more than 10% tree canopy density, irrespective of their legal status and species composition.”
4) The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defined “forest” as the land having trees of more than 5 meters spread over 0.5 hectares and with more than 10 percent canopy cover, or trees able to reach these thresholds in situ.
5) Forests as “naturally regenerated forests of native species where there are no clearly visible indications of human activities and the ecological processes are not significantly disturbed. Primary forests—especially primary tropical moist forests—are highly species-rich, diverse ecosystems, and their extent is an important environmental indicator.” [2]
[1] Chazdon, R. L., Brancalion, P. H. S., Laestadius, L., Bennett-Curry, A., Buckingham, K., Kumar, C., … Wilson, S. J. (2016). When is a forest a forest? Forest concepts and definitions in the era of forest and landscape restoration. Ambio, 45(5), 538–550.
[2] FAO. The Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) Working Paper 180. Terms and Definitions; Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations: Rome, Italy, 2015