Mongabay.com is considered a leading source of information on tropical forests by some of the world's top ecologists and conservationists. TROPICAL RAINFORESTS: Saving What Remains
Illegally logged rainforest wood cut into boards in Indonesian Borneo
Illegally logged rainforest wood cut into boards in Indonesian Borneo. Click on image for more photos from the area. (Photo by R. Butler)

SUSTAINABLE LOGGING IN THE RAINFOREST

By Rhett Butler   |  Last updated July 22, 2012

OVERVIEW

In many tropical countries forests are government-owned and ownership by parties other than the state is often prohibited. Timber is usually harvested under concession agreements awarded to private logging firms which, without securing ownership rights to the land, are often reluctant to make investments in long-term forest management. Thus it is little surprise that a recent study by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) found that more than 90 percent of tropical forests are managed poorly or not at all.

Many tropical countries have sound forestry laws on the books but lack the capacity or political will to enforce them. In the absence of regulation, loggers may ignore the negative environmental impacts of their actions, since they derive little or no financial benefit from mitigating them. Typical management problems include: improperly conducted pre- and post-harvesting inventories, re-logging at more frequent intervals than required, cutting outside concession boundaries, and ineffective control and supervision by forest ministries.

CASE STUDY: Logging in Malaysian Borneo
Industrial logging leaves a poor legacy in Borneo's rainforests

For most people "Borneo" conjures up an image of a wild and distant land of rainforests, exotic beasts, and nomadic tribes. But that place increasingly exists only in one's imagination, for the forests of world's third largest island have been rapidly and relentlessly logged, burned, and bulldozed in recent decades, leaving only a sliver of its once magnificent forests intact. Flying over Sabah, a Malaysian state that covers about 10 percent of Borneo, the damage is clear. Oil palm plantations have metastasized across the landscape. Where forest remains, it is usually degraded. Rivers flow brown with mud.


In some countries, a significant proportion of logging is done illegally. Low capital costs for small-scale logging makes it easy for f;y-by-night operators to harvest valuable timber from poorly monitored or protected forests and smuggle across borders or launder it through legal operations. The World Bank estimates illegal logging generates $10-15 billion annually for organized crime.

Beyond deforestation, one problem with illegal logging is it costs governments money. Unable to collect taxes on illegally-cut timber, money that could otherwise be used for better oversight in the forestry sector, sustainable rural development initiatives, or conservation programs is effectively pocketed by illegal loggers and syndicates syndicates.

Forestry need not be so damaging to forests, especially in secondary forests. Some forest managers now put emphasis on maintaining forests as functional ecological systems while providing multiple economic benefits, rather than a focus on short-term profit maximization. Innovative approaches include greater involvement of local communities, diversification of forest products to include NWFPs, and the development of plantation forests on degraded lands and non-forest. While great strides have been made in recent years to develop more sustainable management policies, logging as generally practiced in the tropics has a substantial environmental impact.





Review questions:

  • Why is illegal logging a problem for governments?

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Continued / Next:

Sustainable logging (continued)




Other pages in this section:

Solutions Introduction
Sustainable Forest Products
Large-scale Forest Products
Medicinal Drugs
Logging
Logging (con't)
Oil
Conservation Priorities
Reserve Size & Valuation
Organization
Intergovernmental Institutions
Communication, Education
Indigenous people
- - - -
References (1)
References (2)
References (3)
References (4)
References (5)
Eco-tourism
Foods & Genetic Diversity
Medicinal Drugs & Pesticides
Logging (con't)
Cattle
Increasing Productivity
Types of Reserves
Funding
Developing nations
NGOs
International Organizations
Conclusion

- - - -
Kids version of this section
- How can we save rainforests?
- Education
- Rehabilitation
- Sustainable development
- Parks
- Eco-friendly companies
- Ecotourism
- What you can do


Selection of information sources

  • According to Boscolo M. and Vincent, J.R. (Promoting better logging practices in tropical forests: a simulation analysis of alternative regulations, World Bank, 5/21/98) and 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) forests in many countries are government owned and private ownership is restricted.
  • 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) note that because timber is often harvested under concession agreement, there is little incentive for logging firms to make investments in sound forest management.
  • Brown, N. and Press, M., "Logging Rainforests the Natural Way?" The New Scientist, 3/14/92, report on an ITTO survey which found that less than 0.1% of rainforests are sustainably managed, while Brooks, D.S. found that less than 1% of the area used for logging is under any form of forest management (US Forests in a Global Context, General Technical Report RM-228, USDA Forest Service, 1993)
  • State of the World's Forests 1999 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) discloses the importance of forestry to the global economy in finding it contributes 2% to world GDP and makes up 3% of international trade.
  • The Associated Press ("Quest for 'Green Gold' fells one of Earth's oldest rainforests," 5/7/96) reports that logging provides employment for 100,000 people in Sarawak alone and brings the province $1.5 billion every year.
  • Boscolo M. and Vincent, J.R. (Promoting better logging practices in tropical forests: a simulation analysis of alternative regulations, World Bank, 5/21/98) note that since loggers derive little benefit from mitigating negative environmental impacts of their activities they often ignore basic management practices in the absence of regulation and supervision.
  • Malaysia's poor enforcement of its forestry laws is mentioned in Manser, B. and Graf, R., "How Sustainable is Malaysia's Forest Industry?" Association for Peoples of the Rainforest, Nov. 1995.
  • Illegal logging in Indonesia is reported in Media Indonesia, Jakarta. 2/1/96.
  • U.S. tropical timber consumption is reported in EDF 1996, Making the Label Stick, The Environmental Defense Fund, 1997; and Brooks, D.S., US Forests in a Global Context, General Technical Report RM-228, USDA Forest Service, 1993.
  • Domestic timber consumption is noted in Vincent, J. R., "The tropical timber trade and sustainable development," Science 256: 1651-1655, 1992, and Bach, C.F. and Gram, S., "The Tropical Timber Triangle," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 3, May 1996.
  • FSC certification is discussed in Abramovitz, J.N., "Taking a Stand: Cultivating a New Relationship with the World's Forests," Worldwatch Institute 1998.
  • Non-tariff trade discrimination as a consequence of timber certification is discussed in Kumari, K., "Sustainable forest management: Myth or Reality? Exploring the Prospects for Malaysia," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 7, Nov. 1996. Kumari also suggests that tropical countries may see such certification efforts as a Western scheme to undermine their sovereignty.
  • The box entitled "Profit while reducing logging damage," comes from a report on an IMAZON study by the Associated Press, "New logging techniques could save the Amazon," August 18, 1999.
  • The text box on "Sustainable forest management" is taken from Bach, C.F. and Gram, S., "The Tropical Timber Triangle," Ambio Vol. 5 No. 3, May 1996.
  • The banana trade wars between the EU and US are examined in Fairclough, G. and McDermott, D., "The Banana Business is Rotten, So Why Do People Fight Over it?"The Wall Street Journal, 8/9/99.
  • Uhl, C. and Vieira, I., "Ecological Impacts of Selective Logging in the Brazilian Amazon: A Case Study of the Paragominas Region of the State of Para", Biotropica vol. 21: 98-106, 1989; Brown, N. and Press, M., "Logging Rainforests the Natural Way?" The New Scientist, 3/14/92; Gillis, M. "Forest concession, management, and revenue policies." In Sharma, N., ed. Managing the World's Forests: Looking for Balance Between Conservation and Development, Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishers, 1992; Sharma, N., ed., Managing the World's Forests:Looking for Balance Between Conservation and Development, Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishers 1992; Bach, C.F. and Gram, S., "The Tropical Timber Triangle," Ambio Vol. 5 No. 3, May 1996; Costa, P.M., "Tropical forestry practices for carbon sequestration: a review and case study from southeast Asia," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 4, June 1996; EDF 1996, Making the Label Stick, The Environmental Defense Fund, 1997; Holdsworth, A.R. and Uhl, C., "Fires in Amazonian selectively logged rain forest and the potential for fire reduction," Ecological Applications Vol. 7, issue 2 (713-725) 1997; State of the World's Forests 1999 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); and The International Tropical Timber Organization (1996-2000) suggest methods to make logging more sustainable.
  • A different position is taken in Bowles, I.A., R. E. Rice, R. A. Mittermeier, and G. A. B. da Fonseca, ("Logging and Tropical Forest Conservation," Science 280: 1899-1900, June 19, 1998). They argue that more focus is needed on investments in protected areas rather than in logging experiments designed to ensure "sustainability" and the conservation of biodiversity.
  • The strip logging techniques of the Amuesha in the Yanesha Forest Cooperative are described in Hartshorn, G.S., "Natural Forest Management by the Yanesha Forestry Cooperative in Peruvian Amazonia," in A.B. Anderson, ed., Alternatives to Deforestation: Steps Toward Sustainable Use of the Amazon Rain Forest, New York: Columbia University Press, 1990; Wilson, E.O., The Diversity of Life, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1992; and Smith, N.J.H. et al., Amazonia - Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and its People, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995. D. Mason ("Responses of Venezuelan Understory Birds to Selective Logging, Enrichment Strips, and Vine Cutting," Biotropica vol. 28:296-309, 1996) examines the effect of strip logging on bird diversity.
  • Reduced-impact logging can be used to significantly reduce carbon emissions relative to conventional logging according to Costa, P.M., "Tropical forestry practices for carbon sequestration: a review and case study from southeast Asia," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 4, June 1996.
  • Abramovitz, J.N., ("Taking a Stand: Cultivating a New Relationship with the World's Forests," Worldwatch Institute 1998) estimates that more than 40% world's industrial timber ends up as paper of which two-thirds is consumed by Europe, Japan, and the United States.
  • The "Improved Harvesting Systems" box is based on recommendations from The State of the World's Forests 1999 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); and literature from the International Tropical Timber Organization (1996-2000). The logistics and viability of helicopter logging is examined in ITTO, "Helicopter logging lifts off in Sarawak," Tropical Forest Update, Volume 6, No 3 1996/3 and Blakeney, J., for ITTO project PD 107/90 (I) in Sarawak, Malaysia, January 1994.
  • The State of the World's Forests 1999 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that international trade in waste paper is up 365% from 1980 levels, while consumption of such paper is up 217%.
  • The "Common Plantation Species" table is taken from The State of the World's Forests 1999 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).





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