The demand to evaluate forest management regimes with regards to their specific benefits and to sustainability in general has fostered the use of criteria and indicators (C&I). According to Prabhu et al. (1999) a criterion is a principle or standard that an issue is judged by, and an indicator is defined as any variable or component of the forest ecosystem used to infer the status of a particular criterion.
Generically, SFM (sustainable forest management) indicators are instruments that are employed by political processes (e.g., MCPFE, Montreal Process, Tarapoto Proposal, UNEP-FAO Dry Zone Africa) to support assessment and reporting national and international progress towards a sustainable development. Indicators are also used in certification initiatives to support monitoring and reporting for marketing purposes. Furthermore, indicators are proven tools for measuring aspects of SFM at regional and forest management unit level. For this purposes, national-level policy indicators have to be adapted and complemented by management indicators in order to grant comprehensible assessment, documentation and communication on how sustainability aspects develop and change in the region and the forest management unit. In an increasing number of cases, multi-criteria decision making (MCDM) methods are used to support such indicator approaches. From these tasks, heterogeneous demands on the development and use of indicators for the assessment of sustainability can be formulated (MENDOZA et al., 1999):
- Indicators are to give a reliable picture of the forest situation covering all forest goods and services and to mirror the complexity arising from this multi-dimensional view.
- Indicators should gather quantitative and qualitative information from different sources and on different scales alike.
- The assessment of sustainable forest management calls for the participatory inclusion of interest groups, stakeholders and experts which makes a high degree of transparency utterly necessary.
- There is need of case-specific clarification on which parameters and methods are used to assess sustainability. For reaching high acceptance in a SFM process, consensus among the interest groups is crucial.
- Analysis of indicator applications should be interactive to secure learning effects and informed decision-making.