Intact Forest Landscapes (IFL)
The world’s large intact forests identified to aid their protection
Source: Potapov, P., A. et al. (2008) Mapping the World’s Intact Forest Landscapes by Remote Sensing. Ecology and Society 13(2): 51.
An Intact Forest Landscape (IFL) is an unbroken expanse of natural ecosystems within the zone of current forest extent, showing no signs of significant human activity and large enough that all native biodiversity, including viable populations of wide-ranging species, could be maintained. Although all IFLs are within the forest zone, some may contain extensive naturally tree-less areas, including grasslands, wetlands, lakes, alpine areas, and ice.1,2 This definition builds on the definition of Frontier Forest, the remaining large, ecologically intact natural forest ecosystems that were identified through an assessment carried out by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in 1997.3 The Frontier Forest’s definition captured several fundamental ecological characteristics of forest ecosystems: stability, biodiversity, and resistance to natural disturbances. The IFL definition was developed for two additional important objectives.4 First, to formalise a replicable procedure for analysis of disturbance and fragmentation in forest landscapes at a regionally and nationally relevant scale. Second, to produce a globally consistent map of remaining intact areas that is suitable for underpinning the targeting of conservation work at these levels.
World Resources Institute (WRI) and Greenpeace in partnership with Biodiversity Conservation Centre, International Socio-Ecological Union and Transparent World
Year of creation
Of the total IFL, 35% are in Latin America, 28% in North America, 19% in Northern Asia, 7% in South Asia Pacific, 8% in Africa and less than 3% in Europe.2 A number of IFL regional maps have been produced between 2001-2006.2,5
IFL areas are located by criteria that are globally applicable and easily replicable, allowing for repeated assessments over time as well as verification by independent assessments. These criteria are separated into two groups, which are applied in sequence.1
1. Extent of developed area:
Areas with evidence of certain types of human influence are considered disturbed and consequently not eligible for inclusion in an IFL. Such evidence include:
- Settlements (including a buffer zone of 1 km);
- Infrastructure used for transportation between settlements or for industrial development of natural resources. This includes roads (except unpaved trails), railways, navigable waterways (including seashore), pipelines, and power transmission lines (including in all cases a buffer zone of 1 km on either side);
- Agriculture and forest plantations;
- Industrial activities during the last 30–70 years, such as logging, mining, oil and gas exploration and extraction, peat extraction;
- Areas affected by stand-replacing wildfires during the last 30–70 years if located in the vicinity of infrastructure or developed areas.
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 domestic animals, low-intensity selective logging, and hunting.
The areas that remain eligible for inclusion in an IFL are then assessed for fragmentation. An IFL must satisfy the following criteria:
- Larger than 50,000 ha;
- At least 10 km wide at the broadest place (measured as a diameter of the largest circle that can be fitted inside the patch);
- At least 2 km wide in narrow parts connecting wider patches and in appendages.
Most IFLs are remote and difficult to exploit-which is typically the reason why they are still intact. IFL maps are a tool promoted by WRI2 and Greenpeace5 to develop strategies for nature conservation by retaining their intactness and protecting them from threats such as conversion to agricultural lands and infrastructure development.
Legal and compliance – Overall, only 8% of the world’s remaining intact forest are strictly protected6 but most are not, due to large size, low level of imminent threat, economic value, and/or lack of recognition of their significance. The IFL designation is known among those who are involved in biodiversity priority-setting at the international level, however national governments are often not involved except in a few countries. Over the years, the concept has gained the attention of companies and certification agencies. Several companies have committed not to use wood from IFLs unless intactness values are preserved, e.g., IKEA and Lowe’s, or to invest only in companies that maintain such values, e.g., Bank of America. These companies use regional maps produced through the IFL approach to implement these policies and avoid sourcing wood from intact forests. IFLs are directly mentioned among other categories of High Conservation Value Forest in the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards for Sustainable Forest Management and Controlled Wood.6
Biodiversity – IFL areas are high in ecological authenticity but not necessarily in biodiversity, which differs depending on the nature of their ecosystems. While the authenticity of an IFL is vulnerable and irreplaceable, the biodiversity may or may not be. IFL is a regional-scale approach, suitable for regional and global scale projects. For use in local scale conservation planning and decision making, its globally consistent criteria should be complemented with local criteria.
Socio-cultural – There is often a lack of human presence and intervention in the IFLs, apart from forest-dwelling or remote indigenous peoples that may be present in some cases. There are therefore seldom any socio-cultural values associated with these areas.
- Potapov, P., Laestadius, L., Yaroshenko, A., Turubanova, S (2009) Global Mapping and Monitoring the Extent of Forest Alteration: the Intact Forest Landscapes Method, FRA Working Paper 166, FAO, Rome.
- Intact Forest Landscapes Website
- Bryant D, Nielson D, Tangley L. (1997) The Last Frontier Forests. Ecosystems and Economies on the Edge. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute
- Potapov, P., A. Yaroshenko, S. Turubanova, M. Dubinin, L. Laestadius, C. Thies, D. Aksenov, A. Egorov, Y. Yesipova, I. Glushkov, M. Karpachevskiy, A. Kostikova, A. Manisha, E. Tsybikova, and I. Zhuravleva. (2008) Mapping the World’s Intact Forest Landscapes by Remote Sensing. Ecology and Society 13(2): 51.
- Greenpeace. (2007) Our Disappearing Forests
- Greenpeace. (2006) Roadmap to Recovery: The World’s Last Intact Forest Landscapes.
- Frontier-Regions Website
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