Forest is in trouble. The most recent (2015) FAO Forest Resources Assessment shows an encouraging trend towards a decrease in deforestation rates, but it also points out that since 1990 total forest loss corresponds to an area the size of South Africa. Efforts to curtail deforestation require reliable assessments, yet current definitions for what a forest exactly is differ significantly across countries, institutions and epistemic communities. Those differences have implications for forest management efforts: they entail different understandings about where exactly a forest starts and ends, and therefore also engender misunderstandings about where a forest should start and end, and about how forests should be managed. This special issue brings together different perspectives from practitioners and academic disciplines - including linguistics, geographic information science and human geography - around the problem of understanding and characterizing forest. By bringing together different disciplinary viewpoints, we hope to contribute to ongoing interdisciplinary efforts to analyse forest change. In this introduction, we propose that interrogating the relationship between forest definitions, boundaries and ways of valuing forests constitutes a productive way to critically conceptualize the trouble that forest is in.
We are grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive and thoughtful comments on a draft version of this paper. We would also like to thank the participants at the workshop in Stels on “the trouble with defining forest: semantics, ontology, territoriality” in June 2016 for their comments and discussions that contributed to the ideas in this paper. Any errors in this paper remain of course our own.