Plantations and Protected Areas provides a historical overview of changes in forest management models and the ways that developing and developed countries have attempted to reconcile forest protection with exploitation. The main argument is that globalization has caused the fall of the conservation model, which embraced the integration of forest conservation and extraction. Instead, what emerged beginning in the 1980s was what Bennett calls “forest management divergence,” between two processes: the creation of forest plantations for timber production, and of protected areas for conservation.
The main focus of the book is the history of forestry science itself, and how it has shaped forest management and policy in both the developing and the developed worlds. Bennett traces a rich history of forestry, from its emergence in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, until what he argues is its decline in the 21st century. We learn about the origins of forest science in Germany, and how early thinkers espoused the idea of sustainable harvest of wood. We also learn that one of the great forestry experiments—the creation, and worldwide expansion, of plantations of exotic species (namely eucalyptus)—ended up creating severe side effects, such as forest degradation and loss of income in local economies.
In the last two chapters, Bennett discusses the re-emergence of calls for protected forests and the public’s discontent with the clear-cutting of native forests. He argues that this period also saw a decline in the legitimacy of traditional forestry and the rise of other sciences, such as conservation biology. He also provides a wealth of information and history about the power of individuals in shaping and influencing forest management worldwide, from Hans Carl von Carlowitz, whose writings on timber protection inspired forestry thinkers in the late 18th century, to Jack Westoby, a former high-ranking official at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), whose views on forestry and development evolved and influenced the organization.
One of the limitations of the book is that its title promises a global history of forest management, but its discussion focuses on only a few countries in depth. It sometimes reads more like a detailed analysis of the history of forestry in the United States and other developed countries. This does not minimize the importance of the book in providing a general overview of forestry via specific cases, but it is worth noting the limitations of the term “global.” The book also does not include international forest politics. There are sparse references to the FAO and the World Heritage Convention, but the book does not at all discuss key international processes that have shaped the discourse of forest management and protection, starting with the International Tropical Timber Agreement in the 1980s, extending through the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in the 1990s, to the United Nations Forum on Forests in the 2000s.
Despite these gaps, the book is an accessible and interesting read for anyone who is looking to learn more about forestry and the challenges of forest protection. It illuminates the historical roots of many of today’s disagreements over forest management. For instance, Bennett explains that early on in the emergence of forest science, foresters blamed forest dwellers as the perpetrators of deforestation and forest degradation, and “argued that the private sector and individuals living near forests could not be trusted to sustainably manage forests in perpetuity” (p. 22). This belief has prevailed until recently (and still does, in some countries), preventing traditional and indigenous communities from managing their own land.
Toward the end of the book, Bennett suggests a shift in forest management processes to becoming more interdisciplinary and inclusive of local communities, a recommendation that has featured in national debates and international negotiations for the past decade. Some of his other suggestions include putting a higher price on timber and decentralizing forest-related decision-making. More importantly, he argues that “public and forest experts should be wary of embracing policies that entirely decouple timber production from forest protection,” and that “decoupling production from protection will continue to devalue the cost of native forest timber” (p. 151).
These recommendations do not seem to target a specific country or group of countries, and one may wonder what types of conditions would have to be in place to make them work in both developing and developed countries. What is also missing are stories in which forest management, in any form, has actually succeeded. The author notes that “numerous examples of successful selective management programs that have been developed for a diverse range of ecological and social systems have emerged” (p. 155), but we do not hear about them.
Still, the focus on mistakes and misconceptions that have been carried out since the 18th century is useful. Bennett’s book is a necessary and important narrative of past wrongs, one that can inform forest protection and management in the 21st century and beyond.