Mongabay.com is considered a leading source of information on tropical forests by some of the world's top ecologists and conservationists. TROPICAL RAINFORESTS: Imperiled Riches - Threatened Rainforests
Clear-cutting in Peru
Clear-cutting in Peru near a gold mine. (Photo by R. Butler)

RAINFOREST LOGGING

By Rhett Butler   |  Last updated July 27, 2012

Logging is one of the most prominent and best-known forms of rainforest degradation and destruction. Despite improved logging techniques and greater international awareness and concern for the rainforests, unsustainable logging of tropical rainforests continues—much of it practiced illegally by criminal syndicates.

In the late 1990s, after depleting much of their own timber stocks, Asian logging companies began aggressively moving into rainforest areas including northeastern South America (Guyana, Suriname); the Brazilian Amazon; the Congo Basin of Central Africa; the South Pacific, particularly the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea; and Central America. Chinese timber firms have been particularly active during that period and the early 2000s, after the government banned domestic logging in much of the country following catastrophic flooding in 1998. With a construction boom fueling demand for wood, China has been linked to logging in Africa, the Amazon, Burma, and Indonesia. However due to depletion of timber stocks, overseas timber operations in the 2000s and 2010s were increasingly replaced by plantation forestry, both timber and oil palm plantations.

Typical logging operations are quite damaging to the rainforest ecosystem. Problems stem from the nature of limited-term timber concessions, which encourage short-term resource depletion, and poor forest planning and management. Corruption is rife in many tropical timber-producing countries, making existing forestry laws nearly unenforceable, while lack of transparency in commercial transactions means that corrupt officials can grant concessions to cronies without regard for the environment or consideration of local people. The structure of the rainforest itself—where no one species dominates and attractive timber trees are widely dispersed—means that it can simply be more profitable to clear- cut forest. Even without clear-cutting, the construction of logging roads to reach forest resources is destructive in the its own right and encourages settlement of previously inaccessible forest lands by speculators, land developers, and poor farmers. Studies by the Environmental Defense Fund show that areas that have been selectively logged are eight times more likely to be settled and cleared by shifting cultivators than untouched rainforests because of the access granted by logging roads. Research has found a high correlation between the presence of logging roads and consumption of "bushmeat"—wild animals hunted as food.

Logging roads aside, selective logging itself—where only one or two valuable tree species are harvested from an area—can take a heavy toll on primary tropical forests. A late 2005 study conducted by scientists from the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University determined that "selective logging" creates twice as much damage as is detected by satellites while resulting in 25 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than previously believed.

Selective logging—as usually practiced—degrades forest because the felling of a single large tree can bring down dozens of surrounding trees which are linked to the target tree by vines and lianas. The thinning of the protective canopy exposes the forest to increased sunlight and drying winds that can kill symbiotic soil organisms essential for decomposition and nutrient-fixing, while drying leaf litter and increasing the forest's vulnerability to fire. Further, the use of tractors for removing trees tears up the soil and increases erosion. Selective logging has been found to reduce global biodiversity by destroying habitat for primary forest species.

These tropical logging operations widely fail to safeguard timber stocks for future harvests and fail to protect logged-over forest from fire, biodiversity loss, over-hunting, and subsequent conversion for agriculture or pasture. But the damage caused by clear-cutters is even worse. Operators who do not practice selective logging may instead simply burn a forest tract after valuable trees have been removed.

Poor economics



Developing countries often see only a fraction of the money generated legal logging operations, and even less from illegal logging, which, according to World Bank estimates, costs governments about US$5 billion in lost revenues annually and hits national economies for another US$10 billion per year. Logging firms can often find or create loopholes in legislation that allow them to pay very little for concessions while sometimes avoiding excise taxes on the logs they remove. For example, a 1994 logging agreement in Suriname granted 25 percent of Suriname's land area (7.5 million acres or 3 million hectares) at less than $35 an acre, while lacking provisions to safeguard the environment, reforest logged areas, or even allow the country to adequately monitor logging activities. Estimates at the time from the U.S. Forestry Service and Harvard Law School projected that while loggers would earn some US$28 million annually, the country would only see US$2 million. That logging contract was subsequently canceled due, in part, to public outcry.

Meanwhile, in the late 1990s, the Cambodian government was losing so much revenue from its failure to collect taxes on timber that the IMF canceled a $120 million loan and the World Bank suspended direct aid to the government until the corruption in the forestry sector was resolved. Apparently these actions were not enough to stem forest loss: between 2000 and 2005, Cambodia lost nearly 30 percent of its primary forest cover. In Nigeria, which suffered the highest rate of primary forest loss (55.7 percent) in the first half of this decade, WEMPCO, a Hong Kong logging firm, in the 1990s reportedly paid US$28 to the government for each mahogany tree while reselling the wood at US$800 per cubic meter, roughly US$2,900 per tree.

Tropical countries also lose potential revenue by exporting logs before processing, when wood has its lowest value. Several countries, including Cambodia, the Solomon Islands, and Burma, in the 1990s banned raw log exports in an effort to increase revenue for local operators and the government, but raw logs are still commonly smuggled by crime syndicates in several countries.

"Sustainable logging"



Sustainable forestry is possible, but according to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), more than 90 percent of tropical forests are managed poorly or not at all. Several techniques like strip logging and reduced impact logging (See Ch 10: Solutions: "sustainable logging") show potential, but do little good if they are not adopted. Further, studies have show that once logged, forest has a much higher likelihood of eventual deforestation due to road construction, increased risk of fire, and over-extraction of valuable species.

Rainforest logging operations are also particularly subject to "greenwashing" where a firm claims to be committed to sustainable harvesting techniques but in practice is failing to implement the most basic safeguards.


+ More information on rainforest logging


    Display articles >>







Review questions:

  • Why can selective logging be destructive in the rainforest?
  • What is the hunting of wild animals for food called?
  • What is greenwash?

Other versions of this page

spanish | french | portuguese | chinese | japanese



Continued / Next:

Pulp and paper



Recent news on logging [all logging news]



Rainforest calendars


Rainforest Calendar



Amazon Rainforest Calendar


Timber 'mass graves' uncovered as Malaysian authorities pursue illegal loggers
(05/21/2015) A crackdown on illegal logging in Peninsular Malaysia's largest continuous forest complex has uncovered three timber 'mass graves' – burial sites where valuable logs have been stashed beneath tons of earth to hide evidence. The loggers apparently made haste in fleeing the hilly terrain where they left the timber. A joint operation by Malaysia's antigraft agency and Forestry Department found parts of logs sticking out of the ground and the red earth still unsettled, indications their quarry had hurriedly concealed the felled trees.


Tennis star responds to rainforest advocates
(05/20/2015) Roger Federer has responded to two Indonesian activists who asked the tennis star to use his influence to encourage Credit Suisse to end its relationship with a controversial logging company, reports the Bruno Manser Fund.


Scientists reconstruct what was in the Harapan Rainforest of Sumatra
(05/12/2015) A new study published in mongabay.com’s open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science describes how the Harapan Rainforest was prior to extensive logging and compares it to its current condition. The authors call for the Harapan's conservation because it is still very rich in species and holds rare habitats and many endemic plants.


World's critical habitats lost Connecticut-size area of forest in a decade
(05/08/2015) Many of the world's endangered animals live in only one place, making them hugely susceptible to environmental upset. One fell swoop, and entire species could disappear from existence forever. New analysis shows that possibility may be edging closer and closer to reality in some areas, with forests known to harbor high-risk species losing an area of tree cover the size of Connecticut in a little over a decade.


Indian fabric giant adopts forest policy
(05/08/2015) One of the world's largest fabric makers for the fashion industry today announced a policy to exclude fiber produced at the expense of endangered forests, reports Canopy, an environmental group that helped broker the commitment.


Sarawak increases fines for illegal logging
(05/01/2015) After decades of intense logging that has left its rainforests degraded, fragmented, and stripped of valuable timber in many areas, the Malaysian state of Sarawak has passed a new forestry bill that could boost penalties for illegal logging.


Selective logging leaves more dead wood in rainforests
(04/28/2015) Up to 64 percent of above-ground biomass in selectively logged forests may consist of dead wood left over from logging damage, argues a paper published this week in Environmental Research Letters.


Report: Borneo could save billions while still meeting conservation and development goals
(04/27/2015) The three nations that share Borneo could save themselves $43 billion by more closely coordinating their environmental conservation and economic development efforts, according to a report published in the journal Nature Communications.


Activists target Roger Federer as brand ambassador for bank linked to deforestation
(04/22/2015) Environmentalists are asking tennis star Roger Federer to deliver a message to Credit Suisse over the banking giant's continued financing of a logging company linked to ongoing destruction of wildlife habitat in Indonesia. According to the Bruno Manser Fund two members of a rainforest community in Sumatra have written to Federer to ask for his help in persuading Credit Suisse to stop financing logging of peat forests.


McDonald's to address deforestation across all commodities it sources
(04/21/2015) Fast food giant McDonald's will combat deforestation across its main commodity supply chains, including palm oil, beef, paper and packaging, coffee, and poultry. The commitment is the most comprehensive of any major restaurant chain.


Woman defeats mine, saves wilderness, wins $175,000
(04/20/2015) When a huge open-pit mine threatened a pristine lake and surrounding forest in British Columbia, Canada, Marilyn Baptiste jumped into action, spearheading efforts to collect environmental impact data and even physically turning away construction crews. Today, Baptiste was honored for her work when she was presented the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize at a ceremony in San Francisco.


Growing need for deforestation-free rubber as tire demand destroys native forests
(04/18/2015) Surging demand for natural rubber is decimating some of the world's most endangered forests, putting wildlife and critical ecosystem services at risk, warn scientists writing in the journal Conservation Letters. Reviewing a large body of published research, Eleanor Warren-Thomas of the University of East Anglia and colleagues detail the crop's expansion across across Southeast Asia in recent decades.


Platform provides near-real time analysis of deforestation in non-Brazilian Amazon
(04/09/2015) A new platform will provide critical near-real time information and analysis on emerging threats to forests in the non-Brazilian Amazon. Officially announced today, the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) in an initiative launched by the Amazon Conservation Association and Conservación Amazónica-ACCA.


Condition of tropical forests 'worsening', could become 'critical'
(04/07/2015) World leaders are continuing to overlook the worsening condition of tropical forests despite the biome's vast potential to help mitigate climate change, support local livelihoods and ecosystem services, and stabilize global agriculture, warns a comprehensive review published by a body founded by Prince Charles.


Who's to blame for forest loss in Borneo timber concession?
(04/06/2015) The apparent loss of some 4,000 hectares of forested peatland in Indonesian Borneo is raising questions on who bears responsibility for forest clearing in un-utilized concessions. On Monday, Greenomics-Indonesia issued a report revealing the loss of significant tracts of peat forest in a West Kalimantan concession held by PT Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH), a plantation company whose operation in South Sumatra supplies Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) with woodpulp for its mills.






Other pages in this section:

A World Imperilled
Threats from Humankind
Economic Restructuring
Logging
Fires
Commercial Agriculture
Hydro, Pollution, Hunting
Debt
Consumption, Conclusion
- - - - -
References
References
References
References
References
Natural forces
Subsistence Activities
Oil Extraction
Mining
War
Cattle Pasture
Fuelwood, Roads, Climate
Population & Poverty

- - - - -
Kids version of this section
- Why are rainforests disappearing?
- Logging
- Agriculture
- Cattle
- Roads
- Poverty


Selection of information sources

  • A brief history of the international timber industry is provided in Brookfield, H., Potter, L., and Byron, Y., In Place of the Forest: Environmental and Socio-economic Transformation in Borneo and the Eastern Malay Peninsula, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995.
  • The Sarawak Campaign Committee in "Japan's Tropical Timber Imports in 1994 and 1995," Mori no Koe Issue #8, 4-25-96, provides statistics for Japanese tropical hardwood log imports.
  • The sudden increase in logging in new markets by multinational firms was covered extensively by the popular media in the mid- to late-nineties including Mittermier, R., "Economic Crisis in Suriname threatens Ecological Eden," Christian Science Monitor, 4/19/95; Friedland, J. and Pura, R., "Log Heaven: Trouble at Home, Asian Timber Firms set Sights on the Amazon," Wall Street Journal, 11/11/96; Barry, G., "Asian Loggers Move into Heart of Amazon Rainforest," BIOD Campaign News, 3/10/97; and Ito, T.M. and Loftus, M., "Cutting and Dealing," U.S. News and World Report, 10-Mar-1997.
  • The failure of many tropical logging operations to safeguard timber stocks for future harvests and to protect logged-over forest from destruction is explored by Frumhoff, P.C. in "The elusive prospect of sustainable forestry," Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Vol 13, issue 4 (166-167) 1-April-1998; by EDF in "Making the Label Stick," The Environmental Defense Fund, 1997; and by Johns, A.G. in Timber Production and Biodiversity Conservation in Tropical Rain Forests, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • S. Rosse gives his account of an illegal logging network in "Thai Forestry Rangers at Work," The Christian Science Monitor, 8/2/93. The illegal timber trade in this region is further documented in The Bangkok Post, "Log Poaching," 11/7/97; Skehan, C., "Forest Carnage," Sydney Morning Herald. 2/28/98; Skehan, C., "Army Denies Involvement in Logging Scandal" Sydney Morning Herald. 2/26/98; Wannabovorn, S., "Thai Opposition Plans Censure Motion Against Government," Reuters, 2/25/98; Agence France-Presse (AFP) "Cambodia Could Soon Lose Forests to Loggers: Green Group," 12/15/97; Baker, M., "Cambodia-Military Involved in Illegal Logging," Sydney Morning Herald, 1/24/97; and Pruzin, D., "Politics of Timber-Loggers Use Loophole to Decimate Cambodia's Disappearing Forest," Christian Science Monitor, 5/1/97.
  • Suksai, S. and Hutasingh, O. ("Working elephants fed with amphetamine-laced bananas" Bankok Post, 6/15/97) report that elephants used for illegal logging were fed amphetamines to increase their productivity.
  • Bawa, K.S. and Seidler, R. ("Natural Forest Management and Conservation of Biodiversity in Tropical Forests." Conservation Biology Vol. 12 No. 1 (46-55), Feb 1998) cite studies that suggest logging to any degree, even if it is highly selective, reduces global biodiversity.
  • McRae, M discusses the impact of high interest rates on logging in "Is 'Good Wood' Bad for Forests?" Science Vol. 275 (1868-1869), March 1997.
  • K. Horta provides a description of a logging operation in the Congo in "Why I was Banned from a Congo Rainforest," Christian Science Monitor, 11/25/96.
  • J.N. Abramovitz reviews the low logging concession fees in Suriname and Belize in "Taking a Stand: Cultivating a New Relationship with the World's Forests," Worldwatch Institute 1998.
  • R. Mittermier ("Economic Crisis in Suriname threatens Ecological Eden," Christian Science Monitor, 4/19/95) mentions estimates from the US Forestry Service and Harvard Law School that project revenues for Suriname from a recent logging agreement.
  • The fact that most tropical timber is harvested for domestic consumption - and not export - is reviewed in Atkin, J., "Tropical timber," Economist, 13 February 8, 1993 and Vincent, J. R., "The tropical timber trade and sustainable development," Science 256 (16511655), 1992. Vincent 1992 also notes that international trade accounts for a diminishing share of tropical timber consumption.
  • Dudley, N., Jeanrenaud, J., and Sullivan, F. ("The Timber Trade and Global Forest Loss." Ambio Vol. 27, No. 3, May 1998) notes that most analyses concentrate on deforestation and overlook forest degradation. They also cite a recent finding of the World Wildlife Fund that logging has become the primary cause of forest loss (road construction for logging activities included) today and suggest most commentators underestimate importance of industrial activities on deforestation.
  • Information on mahogany logging is provided by the Rainforest Action Network (1992-1997).
  • F.S. Kolma, ("FIA refuses to pay K10 royalty," The National (PNG), 11-Jul 1996) reports on the government's failure to enforce an excise tax on timber.
  • L. Weiss ("Nigerians Risk All Their Forests," NGO Coalition for the Environment (NGOCE), Earth Island Journal, 1996) notes the tremendous profit margins of a Hong Kong logging firm in Nigeria on African mahogany trees.
  • Vincent, J.R. and Gillis, M. ("Deforestation and Forest Land Use: A Comment," The World Bank Research Observer, vol. 13, no. 1 (133-140), Feb. 1998) argue that rates of deforestation can be above optimal levels due to policy distortions.
  • G. Barry identifies a study by the International Tropical Timber Organization (a UN body), found that none of 34 sites in the Para state of Brazil had met ITTO harvesting requirements Brazil has agreed to implement by the year 2000 ("Asian Loggers Move into Heart of Amazon Rainforest," BIOD Campaign News, 3/10/97).
  • The impact of the 1997-1998 economic recession in Asia on logging operations is presented in ITTO literature (1998-1999) and Vulum, S., "Logging in PNG: The axe falls," Pacific Island Monthly (Fiji), March 1998.
  • The use of Indonesia's reforestation fund for alternative projects such as propping up a failing car plant is examined by Richardson, M., "Indonesian Crisis Prompts Fears of New Smoke Pollution," International Herald Tribune, 2/13/98.





  • For kids

    Tour: the Amazon

    Rainforest news

    Tour: Indonesia's rainforests

     Home
     What's New
     About
     Rainforests
       Mission
       Introduction
       Characteristics
       Biodiversity
       The Canopy
       Forest Floor
       Forest Waters
       Indigenous People
       Deforestation
       Consequences
       Saving Rainforests
       Amazon
       Borneo
       Congo
       New Guinea
       Sulawesi
       REDD
       Country Profiles
       Statistics
       Works Cited
       For Kids
       For Teachers
       Photos/Images
       Expert Interviews
       Rainforest News
      Forest data
       Global deforestation
       Tropical deforestation
       By country
       Deforestation charts
       Regional forest data
       Deforestation drivers
     XML Feeds
     Pictures
     Books
     Education
     Newsletter
     Contact

    Nature Blog Network



     CONTENTS
    Rainforests
    Tropical Fish
    News
    Madagascar
    Pictures
    Kids' Site
    Languages
    TCS Journal
    About
    Archives
    Topics | RSS
    Newsletter




     Other languages
    Arabic
    Bengali
    Chinese (CN) (expanded)
    Chinese (TW)
    Croatian
    Danish
    Dutch
    Farsi
    French (expanded)
    German (expanded)
    Greek
    Hindi
    Hungarian
    Indonesian
    Italian
    Japanese (expanded)
    Javanese
    Korean
    Malagasy
    Malay
    Marathi
    Norwegian
    Polish
    Portuguese (expanded)
    Russian
    Slovak
    Spanish (expanded)
    Swahili
    Swedish
    Ukrainian



     WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
     Email:


     INTERACT
    Facebook
    Twitter
    Contact
    Help
    Photo store
    Mongabay gear




    Recent news




    More rainforest news



    what's new | rainforests home | for kids | help | madagascar | search | about | languages | contact

    Copyright Rhett Butler 1994-2015

    Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
    an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region.
    Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.

    "Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.