A new report suggests that while many countries are getting better at managing their tropical forests, deforestation remains a very real danger.

The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) has completed and released an assessment detailing how well the 33 countries that control the majority of the world’s rainforests and tropical timber production have been managing their resources.

The ITTO is an intergovernmental body charged with promoting the sustainable management, use and trade of tropical forest resources.

Drawing on data from the 33 countries, the report, "Status of Tropical Forest Management 2011," found that between 2005 and 2010, the area of sustainable tropical forests across the globe expanded from 89 million acres to 134 million acres.

The forests set aside for timber-production also saw in an increase in management plans, with just a little over 320 million acres now with sustainable plans in place.

Brazil, Gabon, Guyana, Malaysia and Peru made the most progress in developing sustainable forestry plans, with progressive forest legislation and increased forest enforcement presences on the ground.

"We are of course happy to see the progress that has occurred in the last five years, but it still represents an incremental advance, and some countries are still lagging behind," said Emmanuel Ze Meka, ITTO's Executive Director.

Of the 33 countries surveyed, 26 had engaged in initiatives related to reducing emissions from forest destruction and degradation (REDD), which account for 10-20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally.

"REDD has considerable promise but it's essential that it evolves to recognize and support initiatives focusing on sustainable utilization of tropical forest resources, including sustainable timber production, as opposed to becoming primarily a fund to conserve forests," Duncan Poore, an author of the report and former director of the Nature Conservancy in the UK and former director-general of the IUCN (World Conservation Union).

Trouble spots
Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Liberia and Suriname have not been as active as others, with internal conflicts, unclear ownership of forests and a lack of enforcement personnel have made forest management in these countries a challenge.

"The report shows that less than 10 percent of all forests are sustainably managed and that ITTO expects deforestation to continue," said Andy White, Coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative.

Land ownership in particular represents a significant problem, as crafting a clear agreement the government, local communities and landowners has presented a knotty situation for countries and conservationists to work through.

Africa has proven the most challenging, according to the report. A "disconnect between legal and customary systems" in West and Central Africa has slowed down efforts in implementing forest management.

But the report stresses that local control of forests is not enough for forest management. Many local communities lack the resources and knowledge to implement management plans, particularly when it comes to receiving ITTO’s forest certification approvals.

The report is the only one of its kind to collect data from countries, put the data through an independent review process by the ITTO and outside experts and then verified with information sources like the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.

The report was funded with support from governments of Switzerland and Japan, as well as from ITTO's Bali Partnership Fund.