High Conservation Values Forest Assessment

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Recognizing the true value of critical landscapes against industrial development

Africa’s population is growing at a rate of 2.3 percent annually, compared to 1.1 percent globally. At the same time, the continent is losing about 10 million acres of forest every year to commercial logging and land conversion for roads, agriculture, settlement, and various other developments.

Rainforest Axel Rouvin
Rainforest in Gabon. Photo: Axel Rouvin /Flickr

… [I]ncreasingly, we are seeing the same scenario played out in Africa. A cheap, profitable crop like palm oil is difficult for many to turn down, even if it means wiping out chimpanzee or gorilla habitat in the process. Surely Dr. Oz’s audience would like to make informed consumer choices with so much in the balance.

A recent reaction by GRASP ambassadors Dr. Richard Wrangham with Dr. Jane Goodall speaking out on consumers’ impact of their choices on the survival of great apes.

~See: Great Apes Survival Partnership, January 2013 


Africa’s forests and woodlands are among the world’s richest source of biodiversity resources and livelihoods for a majority of local people. Africa’s forests have a crucial role to play at the regional and global level, in large part due to ecosystem services including climate regulation, carbon sequestration, repositories for biodiversity, primary and secondary forest products, and water catchment.


In recent years, efforts to localize and internalize the true social, environmental and economic value of intact ecosystems into development plans have come to the fore as irreplaceable landscapes are destroyed at an alarming rate, often in less developed nations. One such effort uses the High Conservation Value (HCV) forest assessments principle developed by the Forest Stewardship Council.


ABCG recognized the massive threat posed by the ever increasing interest in and demand for Africa’s natural resources through logging, mining, palm oil, wildlife poaching and other industries. ABCG partners involved with the HCV task include Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society and World Wildlife Fund. Protecting biological resources does not come easy in a continent rife with scarce infrastructure, poor capacity and incomplete data. The importance of these significant barriers to implementing ecologically balanced development measures led to ABCG’s HCV Forest Assessment task conducted for the Congo Basin in two phases:
Rio Ivindo Carlos Reis
Rio Ivindo. Photo Carlos Reis /Flickr
  • Develop a toolkit for setting HCV thresholds of significance for the coastal forest area of Gabon. This involved analyzing ecological and environmental service data available for the coastal forest biome of Gabon; and   
  • Investigate the possibilities of scaling up this approach for a methodology applicable to a national or regional scale, particularly in central Africa, identifying biodiversity data gaps and conducting regional HCV evaluations.

The effort resulted in two detailed reports produced by Conservation International and Wildlife Conservation Society experts. The first, authored by Tim Rayden, Technical Advisor for Forestry at the Wildlife Conservation Society, aims at establishing a model approach to setting limits and thresholds to criteria for HCV attributes. Titled Defining HCV Thresholds in Gabon: Year #1 report, it seeks to offer a utility to the process of land use planning by developing parameters that are appropriate for the national context. Key steps in the process include five thematic areas to support Gabon’s national land use planning process:

  1. Review existing approaches to threshold setting for conservation planning in data-poor contexts and their potential applicability to a stakeholder-led HCV decision making process
  2. Development of methods for the identification of forest types and land units, to facilitate the planning process
  3. Identification and modeling of endemic plant hotspots
  4. Refining the work done so far on population mapping of great apes and elephants
  5. Using a biotic index of fresh water systems to identify important river catchments 

The second report, titled A Global Review of National Guidance for High Conservation Value, was authored by Rachel Neugarten and Conrad Savy of Conservation International. The report reviews an array of toolkits and guidance literature to tease out common themes or areas of consistency that represent best practices with the aim of developing national guidelines.

Rachel Neugarten explains further: 

We undertook this review out of concerns about inconsistencies in the ways different countries are defining and applying the concept of High Conservation Value in forestry, agricultural, and biofuels landscapes. We found that indeed there are sharp differences in the guidance from different countries, including different definitions of threatened species, protected areas, and large intact landscapes. But we see reason to be hopeful that existing guidance can be linked to international standards, such as the , and make use of existing tools, such as the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT) which can make it easier for practitioners to implement the HCV framework and to increase the consistency in the way this standard is applied across countries.

This report highlights several noteworthy findings: The authors recognize that developing guidelines is highly contextual, and thus calls for pragmatic and flexible approaches. They also find there is need for HCV assessment in non-forest landscapes including grasslands and marine ecosystems.  


Overall, the authors find a striking lack of quantitatively-based criteria in many toolkits, likely due to the cost of acquiring such data, adding to the challenge of setting thresholds. This is the core challenge that the HCV partners endeavor to resolve through ongoing efforts in a second phase of the Defining HCV Thresholds in Gabon work. WCS and partners will continue publishing maps, develop data into tools and decision support applications for conservation planning, and conduct ground testing to ultimately provide a case study on determining HCV areas in a particular landscape.


The concern about deforestation and climate change is driving increasing public scrutiny of land use decisions. Governments, private sector and NGOs have a common interest in identifying the areas important to conserve. Participatory approaches such as the identification of HCV areas can have a major influence. Our project aims to provide a scientifically robust and transparent basis for why a given area of forest is considered HCV. The aim is to test different thresholds, and to show these on maps, so that stakeholders can see the impacts of their decisions about what is important.


~Tim Rayden, Technical Advisor, Forestry and Climate Change, WCS Congo


Find an executive summary of the A Global Review of National Guidance for High Conservation Value report by CI here.

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