The genetic resources of forests are rich and diverse, comprising the genes and gene complexes of forest trees, plants and animals. Historically, we have exploited these genetic resources at the level of populations or individual organisms; new biotechnologies have the potential to make these resources available at the level of the gene or gene complex. The benefits arising from the utilization of forest genetic resources accrue variously to individuals, communities, enterprises and societies both in and ex situ, but there are as yet few mechanisms which capture or direct these benefits to those who have conserved or developed forest biological diversity.
Forest genetic resources have been sampled and tested for research and development purposes without restriction, and at nominal or no charge to the collector. Where forest genetic resources have been assembled on a large scale, for example the collection of tree seed for operational establishment or of plant material for pharmaceutical screening, some market price reflecting primarily short-run supply and demand has prevailed. The income generated has typically accrued principally to the collecting enterprise, variously a state agency or individual entrepreneur. In the latter case, some level of fee is usually levied by the state or the forest owner. In neither case has it been common for benefits to be shared with indigenous or local communities, except where their resource or property rights have been recognized explicitly.
Realizing the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of forest genetic resources depends fundamentally on political choice; in this case, about relative responsibilities, rights and values. The terms of discussion about these political choices reflect the diversity of opinions about: (a) the relative responsibilities and rights of various stakeholder groups, in the development and conservation of forest biological diversity, and; (b) the relative values of forest genetic resources, the products developed from them, and the technologies which effect that development.