Whose perspective counts? A critical look at definitions of terms used for natural and near-natural forests

Sini Savilaakso, Nik Lausberg, Patrick O. Waeber, Oona Hillgén, Anna Isotalo, Fritz Kleinschroth, Ida N.S. Djenontin, Nastasia Boul Lefeuvre, Claude A. Garcia

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The way forests are defined, using terms such as ancient, old-growth, primary, sacred, or intact forest landscapes, has far-reaching impacts on how, why, and where forests are conserved and managed. Definitions of terms such as “old-growth forests” have been discussed individually but not collectively assessed. Here, we review the definitions and uses of terms associated with natural and near-natural forests using systematic mapping methods and critical analysis. Our findings reveal a variety of definitions for different terms, although a few frequently cited ones prevail. Our results also highlight the dominance of Western institutions and scientific knowledge in shaping global discourses on forest conservation, often at the expense of Indigenous and local perspectives. Despite the increasing recognition of the value-based benefits that forests provide, definitions that explicitly incorporate values are scarce. This omission of the voices of forest-proximate communities and a lack of consideration for their local values and needs result in recognition, contextual, and procedural inequities when employing mainstream terms to define natural and near-natural forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1477-1493
Number of pages17
JournalOne Earth
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 17 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)

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