Tropical forests cover only a small fraction of the Earth but are estimated to harbour more than half its terrestrial plant and animal species. This biodiversity performs many useful functions, including helping maintain forest health and productivity. Logging in tropical forests is often cited as a major threat to biodiversity, but there is considerable evidence to suggest that well-managed forests used for timber production can constitute a major resource for biodiversity conservation. Indeed, it is crucial that they do.
Since its inception, ITTO has worked with members to develop policies and implement projects aimed at conserving this rich biodiversity while also creating economic opportunities for forest-dependent people.
In the early 1990s, the Organization worked with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to develop the ITTO Guidelines for the Conservation of Biological Diversity in Tropical Production Forests. This policy document was updated and published in 2009 as the ITTO/IUCN Guidelines for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in Tropical Timber Production Forests
The guidelines set out the reasons for making biodiversity conservation a goal of national forest policy and show ways of establishing permanent forest estates that integrate conservation areas with natural and planted production forests. They provide advice on planning at the landscape level, such as linking reserves with corridors of natural forest to allow wildlife to move between reserves. At the field level, the guidelines present principles and actions to maximize biodiversity conservation during management activities.
ITTO takes a dual approach to biodiversity conservation. First, it aims to reduce the loss of biodiversity associated with the extraction of forest products and services, particularly timber, through improved forest management. Second, it assists member countries to manage protected areas. In particular, ITTO has supported efforts to improve the management of more than 10 million hectares of transboundary conservation areas, in which two or more countries cooperate in the management, conservation and sustainable use of ecologically important areas straddling borders.