Forest ownership in Ecuador
Out of 12.55 million ha of forest cover, over 4.9 million ha of forest is publicly owned (patrimonio forestal del estado) and a relatively small area (762,000 ha; FAO, 2015) is in private ownership or on communal territories of indigenous peoples while, for the rest, the ownership is unknown for over 7 million ha of forest, according to FAO. The State (patrimonio forestal del estado) manages both state-owned production forests and the SNAP (Sistema Nacional de Áreas Protegidas), a network of protection areas (ITTO, 2011). In practice, most of Ecuador’s forests are owned by local communities and indigenous groups (ancestral indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians), although the majority are not subject to official land titles. What’s more, there is considerable overlap between the areas in the SNAP and private and Indigenous lands (ITTO, 2011): according to local researchers (Palacios and Freire, 2010), indigenous groups and settlers own about 60% of the total forest area (which would indeed represent over 7 million ha) and 40% of it is within protected areas.
In order to facilitate forest administration and use (in both state- and privately-owned forests), the following classification has been established:
- Permanent state-owned production forests,
- Permanent privately-owned production forests;
- Protection forests;
- Special areas including areas for research.
Ecuador has not defined a Permanent Forest Estate (PFE) for production, but there is a clear distinction between forests destined for (potential) production (estimated by the Government of Ecuador at 4.51 million ha in 2009, including a small portion of planted forest) and forests reserved for protection (with an estimated total area of protected forests at 6.55 million ha) , and the latter are clearly delimited. However, ITTO states that the production forest area that could be considered as PFE for production is only about 2 million ha and this includes already exploited areas in state-owned forests. In protection forests (bosques protectores), which is the protection category of private properties, production is allowed if that is regulated in the forest management plans.