World Rainforest Movement

The HCVF Toolkit: the right tool for the wrong job?

The notion of High Conservation Value Forest was originally developed as a key principle within the revised standard of the Forest Stewardship Council issued in 1999. However guidance on how such forests should be identified was scarce and not well consolidated. In 2002, the conservation organisation WWF and the retail company IKEA, as part of a three-year cooperative programme, decided to fund a small project to develop guidance on how HCVF should be defined, identified and managed. To this end they contracted Proforest, an ‘independent company, working with natural resource management and specialising in practical approaches to sustainability’, to carry out this work. During 2002, Proforest convened a small group of people with very varied expertise in social and environmental issues to draft a ‘tool kit’, which was circulated in draft form in late 2002. Over the coming months Proforest then carried out trial applications of, and consultations about, the tool kit in Romania, Bulgaria, China, Mongolia and Indonesia. The result was The High Conservation Value Forest Toolkit which was issued in December 2003. It comprises a simple guide to forest managers and landscape planners to help them apply the concept in managing forests.

As designed by the original team convened to draft the ‘Toolkit’, the guide was to be used within the broader framework of principles and criteria set out in the Forest Stewardship Council’s standard. These standards require that forest managers: comply with relevant national and ratified international laws; have clear tenure rights or act with the consent of legal or customary rights-holders; respect indigenous peoples’ rights; have good relations with workers and local communities; manage forests to achieve multiple benefits; conserve biological diversity and maintain forest integrity; according to a demonstrable and effectively applied management plan, which monitored and evaluated. The tool kit was thus conceived as being applied at a local level (within ‘Forest Management Units’), by communities and foresters who were seeking FSC certification of their forest products. This also meant that the Tool Kit did not have to repeat management requirements already set out in the other FSC standards – legality, respect for indigenous rights, effective community participation, sound environmental management, good labour relations etc etc – all these were already meant to have been taken care of by operators in complying with the other parts of the FSC standard. HCVF was thus seen as an ‘add on’ – an extra layer of precaution designed to protect areas with especially important values. It also meant that application of the HCVF concept would be subject to independent verification by a third party, since this was required for all aspects of the FSC standard.

However, even by the end of 2003, it was clear that companies and NGOs were using the HCVF concept, and the Tool Kit, outside the FSC framework. It began to be used for wider landscape planning, both to guide resource exploitation and conservation initiatives. Companies, frustrated by the shortage of certified timber in the market, were seeking to apply the HCVF method to guide their purchasing policies. If they couldn’t buy certified timber, they thought, at least, they could use the HCVF method to ensure they weren’t sourcing from the most critical forests.

Of course the risks in this approach are obvious. In the first place, it could sustain or even intensify pressure on forest areas declared not to be ‘HCVF’. Secondly, it means that the other requirements of the FSC system could be lost sight of. HCVF is now being applied at a very broad scale, to zone whole landscapes or countries not just at the level of the Forest Management Unit. Working at such a large scale makes due consultation with local communities almost impossible – and this automatically leads to an abuse of the HCVF approach. After all, the HCVF concept is meant to protect forest areas ‘fundamental to meeting basic needs of local communities’ and ‘critical to local communities’ cultural identities’. As the Tool Kit makes clear such areas can only be determined by consultation with the peoples concerned – no one else knows what areas people consider important to their cultures and livelihoods. Without community involvement in zoning, it will be inevitable that outsiders will overlook or ignore areas considered vital by local people. Thirdly, it implies that there is no longer any requirement to comply with other crucial requirements of good forest management. Companies buying timbers from areas zoned by the HCVF method could unwittingly be buying from illegal operators, such as those which abuse indigenous rights, harm local communities, exploit their workforces or destroy local environments, as the HCVF approach does not look into such matters, being narrowly focused on only ascertaining which forests have ‘high conservation value’. And, finally, with the HCVF approach being applied outside the FSC framework, there is no longer a requirement for third party independent verification. In other words, the release of the HCVF concept from the FSC framework has opened a Pandora’s box of risks.

The newly formed ‘High Conservation Value Resource Network’ was, in part at least, established to deal with some of these dilemmas. Its mission is ‘to maintain and enhance critical social and environmental values of forests and other ecosystems as part of responsible land management, and to advance locally adaptable management strategies through the development and use of the high conservation value (HCV) approach’. The HCV Resource Network is overseen and directed by a Steering Group, while management of the day-to-day activities are undertaken by a Secretariat based in the United Kingdom.

The Steering Group is composed of individuals from the following organizations:
– ForestEthics
– Forest Peoples Programme (FPP)
– Forest Stewardship Council (FSC International)
– Greenpeace International
– International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)
– MONDI [a South African pulp and paper company]
– Tetra Pak
– The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
– Centro de Investigaciones Antropologicas, Universidad Nacional Experimental de Guayana, Venezuela (CIAG-UNEG)
– World Bank (WB)
– World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
– World Conservation Union (IUCN)
– World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF International)

The Secretariat, is run by ProForest, a company based in Oxford, United Kingdom, while the network is currently funded through WWF agreements with Ikea, Tetra Pak and the World Bank.

The Network has been set up to encourage dialogue between concerned parties, is open to all, and only requires of ‘participants’ that they endorse a short ‘Charter’ which sets out the mission, structure and guiding principles of the Network. As well as encouraging information sharing and discussion to promote a responsible application of the HCV approach, the Network also aims to encourage open assessment of such application through participatory and inclusive monitoring, the use of the precautionary approach, peer review and public reporting. The Charter also explicitly plans to develop a framework to ensure legality; protection of local communities’ and indigenous peoples’ customary and legal rights and respect for their right to control what happens in their areas; protection of areas from unjustified conversion; and, provision of further environmental safeguards. Web-based discussion groups, open to all, have already been launched to exchange views and information on these matters.

Sources: Forest Peoples Programme,,, and

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