Monday, July 30, 2012

Can Forest Conservation and Logging be Reconciled?

Hi everyone, here is an alternative view on the issue of logging and conversation. Do you agree or disagree? Comments are most welcome.

by Professor Jerry Vanclay, Dean of Science at Southern Cross University and Douglas Sheil, Director of the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation at Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, The Conversation:

Logging and conservation (AAP/Greenpeace/Sutton-Hibbert)
Is there a role for logging in ensuring the future of the world’s tropical forests and their rich diversity of plants and animals?

For many this idea is absurd, because timber production achieving conservation goals have long been viewed as incompatible opposites. “Loggers” were tarred as planet plunderers, “greenies” were branded ignorant idealists, while researchers found themselves caught between warring factions with little interest in data from outside their own views and experiences.

Sadly, this myopic and highly polarised view of preservation versus production rarely helps save vulnerable landscapes. Fortunately these views are changing.

Finding outcomes that offer real improvements for conservation gains depend on recognising some myths and acknowledging the dynamic nature of forests. Many people, especially in Australia, generally imagine all “logging” as broad-scale clear-felling. However, timber harvesting takes many forms, and large-scale clear-felling is at one end of a broad spectrum.

In well-managed forests, foresters seek to harvest in an ecologically-appropriate way. Generally, clear-felling is appropriate only in forests that are naturally adapted to major disturbances (such as Australia’s wildfires).

At the other end of the harvesting spectrum, single-tree selection is appropriate in forests that evolved with small-scale disturbance (such as many species-rich where most trees die standing and finally collapse from decay), and where seedlings tolerate heavy shade.

In most tropical forests managed for sustainable timber production, harvesting is selective. Between two and 20 stems are removed from each hectare of forest, once every few decades. When done carefully this leaves over 90% of the trees in place. Thus a logged, rich, tropical forest is still a rich tropical forest and stems regrow to replace those removed.

Many of the technical arguments against timber production in tropical rainforests relate to species loss or to the increased likelihood of forest conversion (i.e. that the forest will then be converted to some other non-forest use).

There is ample evidence from various sites that logged forests lack many of the species - especially the larger animal species - found in more pristine forests. There are also many cases where forests that have been selectively logged for timber have subsequently been converted to pasture, oil palm, or other intensive uses. But, we now realise, the implied cause-and-effect relationships are not necessarily inevitable. Let’s deal with these issues one at a time.

First, how does timber harvest affect the biological value of tropical forests? Our recent study summarised over 100 scientific papers from a range of sites and concluded that 85% to 100% of the forest biodiversity was maintained in forests that have been logged once.

Other studies of forests harvested repeatedly have found similar results. This doesn’t mean that other older observations were wrong - just that they didn’t distinguish the cause of the species declines they observed.

Areas that are accessible for timber harvest are often accessible for hunting, pet-trade collecting, gold panning, and so on. Certainly, new logging roads often provide access into once inaccessible areas, and can exacerbate and facilitate other harmful activities, but whether they are the cause is a matter of semantics.

High levels of hunting can and do occur in strictly protected forests, too - but no-one would argue that that is a valid reason not to have strictly protected forests. In both cases, logged or protected forests, the answer is the same - stronger incentives and controls are required to favour the desired conservation outcome.

The question then is how to provide these incentives and controls. On the ground, control of activities like hunting is often more practical in actively-managed production forest than in national parks starved of staff and resources.

The need to control, and in some cases prohibit, hunting is now a common element of good practice in forest management and is implemented in many concessions (in Sarawak, Congo, and other concessions accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council).

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