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
Bamboo forest in Maui
Bamboo forest in Maui. (Photo by R. Butler)

Reduced-Impact Logging

By Rhett Butler   |  Last updated July 22, 2012

Sustainable Logging and Improved Forest Management

Although numerous companies claim to practice "sustainable logging", few actually do. Economics is a primary reason — waiting for timber stocks to recover after selective logging can take a generation. It is more profitable to harvest and run or convert the concession to an industrial plantation.

However recovery can be hastened, and ecological damage reduced, by adopting reduced-impact logging practices. These include: 1) cutting climbers and lianas well before felling; 2) directional tree felling to inflict the smallest impact on the surrounding forest; 3) establishing stream buffer zones and watershed protection areas; 4) using improved technologies to reduce damage to the soil caused by log extraction; 5) careful planning to prevent excess roads which give access to transient settlers; 6) reducing wood waste for cut areas (anywhere from 25-50 percent of the wood from a given cleared patch is wasted); 7) limiting the gradient of roads to prevent excess erosion. These steps can limit damage to the surrounding forest, cut erosion of topsoil, enable faster recovery of the forest, and reduce the risk of fire. The biggest drawback to such harvesting methods is the great management expense, because more supervision, planning, and training are required and fewer trees can be removed, reducing output and income. Nonetheless, it seems clear that some short-term sacrifices will have to made to establish new forest management for long-term benefits. The big question is whether it is in the economic interest of timber operators to adopt these methods without prodding from government agencies or specific market demand for "greener" products.

Increasing the transparency of business transactions and standardizing the procedures of awarding concessions will also improve forest management. By stimulating open competition through auctions, questionable concessions granted through nepotism or corruption can be reduced. Instead of bribes, concessions could be granted to bidder who make the best offers, both in terms of cash and minimal environmental impact. Governments could also require a "performance bond" worth 10-15 percent of the value of a firm's investment for companies exploiting the forest. The bond is held to guard against environmental degradation and used to repair damage caused by poor logging practices.

Examples of More Sustainable Forestry



Sustainable management implies the maintenance of the productivity of the asset base. Thus, in theory, under sustainable forest management, logging should meet the needs of the present without compromising the continuity of the ecosystem and the goods and services that it provides. There are sustainable methods of harvesting rainforest hardwoods, although these appear to have the most success when conducted on a small-scale, in the form of well-managed community forestry. For example, the Amuesha Indians in the Yanesha Forestry Cooperatives Project of Peru employ a technique sometimes known as strip logging, based loosely on a rotating concept much like their traditional technique of slash-and-burn agriculture. They log a strip of forest 65 feet wide and use their oxen to take trees to a local sawmill. The gap is narrow enough to allow rapid plant colonization and seed dispersal across the clearing, while the soil is relatively undisturbed by the use of animal transport. The surrounding forest rapidly fills in the gap and within 20 years the strip is covered with secondary forest. In the meantime, the Indians take timber from other strips. When the forest has recovered, the Indians can again return to log the secondary forest. The rotating cycle only impacts a relatively small area and is a renewable practice. Commercial logging companies could follow an adaptation of this renewable technique. Though in the short run it is more costly and inefficient, in the log run it helps preserve the rest of the forest and the services and resources it provides. In any case, many ecologists argue that it is important to leave some areas of forest — especially old-growth or primary forest — completely untouched to accommodate those species that cannot tolerate life in disturbed forest.

Studies have found that reduced-impact logging can be used to reduce carbon emissions by up to 40 tons per hectare of forest compared to conventional logging. This, combined with the preservation of higher levels in biodiversity in selectively logged forests, lends a strong case to sustainable forest management over standard timber-harvesting techniques.

Using Alternatives to Tropical Timber


There is much potential for using alternatives to tropical rainforest timber, including wood sourced from plantations established on degraded, non-forest land. Studies have show there are 800 million to 1.6 billion hectares of degraded land with little or no forest that could be suitable for timber plantations. With remote sensing technology, watchdog groups and governments need to ensure that forests aren't converted for new plantations.

Another alternative is to shift toward non-wood fibers like bamboo and straw, especially for low-value pulpwood for paper production, which is an important driver of deforestation in many parts of the world, especially Indonesia. Bamboo — members of the grass family — grow rapidly and can also be used in construction and for clothing manufacture.

Reused and Recycled Wood Products


Tropical rainforests are used as sources for pulpwood in paper manufacturing. However, with improved methods of paper recycling and more dependence on plantation forests, less wood need come from natural forests.

Plantations


Increasingly, timber firms are turning to plantations to provide forest resources. Forest plantations are essentially tree crops planted for the particular purpose of providing a specific source for wood products. Forest plantations are generally composed of a few tree species which have useful attributes like rapid growth, low management requirements, and high product yield.

Plantation forests have the potential to help meet demand for forest products like industrial roundwood, fuelwood, and pulpwood while at the same time providing some of the functions of natural forests including soil stabilization, prevention of erosion, carbon emissions mitigation, and maintaining the water cycle. However plantations established in place of natural forests — especially primary forest or well-developed secondary forest — generally represent a net ecological loss. Furthermore, the establishment of plantations on contested community land can spark social conflict.

Therefore it is critical that forest plantations be limited to highly degraded forest and non-forest lands. Provided they are established in such areas and that local communities are properly consulted, plantations can offer substantial benefits, including generating local livelihoods and acting as buffers around protected areas.

chart: global plantation expansion between 1990 and 2010
Plantations, or "planted forests" as termed by the FAO, expanded from 178 million hectares in 1990 to 264 million by 2010. More than half the expansion occurred in Asia.

Smallholder plantations are an important source of local income in the tropics. For example, small rubber plantations in Indonesia — sometimes called "jungle rubber" — provide a livelihood for over a million people and generate more than half the country's rubber export revenues. Plantation species, primarily used for oil, food, and rubber production, are increasingly being used as secondary fuelwood sources by local families after harvesting primary products.





Review questions:

  • What are some ways to reduce the impact of logging in the rainforest?
  • What are alternatives to rainforest wood?

Other versions of this page

spanish | french | portuguese | chinese | japanese



Continued / Next:

Sustainable cattle ranching




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






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

Indonesian law bars palm oil companies from protecting forests
(10/21/2014) A law passed by the Indonesian government last month makes it even more difficult for palm oil companies to conserve tracts of wildlife-rich and carbon-dense forests within their concessions, potentially undermining these producers' commitments to phase deforestation out of their supply chains, warns a new report published by Greenomics, an Indonesian environmental group.


To become less damaging, target non-forest lands for palm oil, says book
(10/16/2014) Palm oil production has been spectacularly profitable but ecologically disastrous across Southeast Asia, consuming millions of hectares of indigenous lands, rainforests, and peatlands in recent decades. That paradox has made the crop highly controversial despite its importance in providing a high-yielding source of vegetable oil. A new book, published freely online by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), weighs in on the debate and concludes — like many before it — that the problem is not the crop itself, but how it is produced.


Daring activists use high-tech to track illegal logging trucks in the Brazilian Amazon
(10/15/2014) Every night empty trucks disappear into the Brazilian Amazon, they return laden with timber. This timber —illegally cut —makes its way to a sawmills that sell it abroad using fraudulent paperwork to export the ill-gotten gains as legit. These findings are the result of a daring and dangerous investigation by Greenpeace-Brazil.



More news on forestry


More rainforest news



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

Copyright Rhett Butler 1994-2013

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.