The author bases this paper on the premise that an ecosystem approach to the management of forests is most effective. In order to recommend how effective management may be achieved on the ground, he poses some key questions
are people part of forest ecosystems?
what are the impacts of human harvesting on forest ecosystems?
how can forest ecosystems be managed so that they provide both the goods and the services that are required by modern society?
The article briefly explores these key issues, and indicates appropriate lines of action to be taken in future. McNeely argues that there is no such thing as forest that has not been affected by human intervention, most forests considered 'wild' have in fact been used and managed by humans for hundreds of years. He outlines the impacts that man has on forests, stating that logging and clearing and their associated effects are the most significant. The author provides some general recommendations in response to the question of how forests can be managed at the ecosystem level:
protect large areas of forest rather than small ones where possible
rebuild connectivity among small adjacent protected areas by including intervening habitat and promoting reforestation of the landscape
protect forest edges against structural damage, damage by fire and colonization by exotics, by leaving a natural buffer zone of forest that could be managed to resemble a natural ecotone (a boundary or transition zone between adjacent communities) rather than an abrupt edge
minimize the harshness of the adjacent matrix by diversifying and promoting less intensive types of land use around forests, controlling the use of fire in ecosystems that are not fire climaxes (plant communities whose succession is maintained by periodic fires), minimizing the application of toxic chemicals and controlling the introduction of potentially invasive alien plant species
In response to the general call for community based management as the answer for forest conservation, McNeely concludes his paper by arguing that the faith in local communities as forest ecosystem managers needs to be balanced with recognition that forests achieve numerous national objectives, including meeting needs for timber and fuelwood, retaining options for future economic use, addressing ethical and aesthetic values and providing global benefits such as biodiversity conservation. Thus simply ensuring local management of forest resources may not always lead to socially optimal levels of biodiversity conservation. Instead, the larger society must mobilize additional resources and approaches to support a socially desirable level of conservation effort, appropriate for its ecological, social, historical and political setting. As in every other field, management means setting objectives and making the trade-offs necessary to achieve them. [adapted from author]