Model shows ‘waves of forest degradation’


An international team of researchers has developed a model that suggests degradation of tropical forests occurs in a series of “waves”, reports the BBC News website’s Mark Kinver.

High-value trees were felled in the first “wave”, followed by a wave that removed mid-value timber before the remaining wood was felled for charcoal.

The team hopes the model will help manage forests as vital carbon sinks and limit the loss of biodiversity.

The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers said an economic theory was used to provide a general model to predict patterns of tree loss.

This translates to a prediction that waves of forest degradation will emanate from major demand centres and expand into nearby forested areas, targeting resources in sequence, starting with those of highest value,” they wrote in their PNAS paper.

“Such a sequence of demand, linked to resource utilisation, has been demonstrated for unmanaged fisheries… but has not been shown for the exploitation of differently valued tropical forest products.”

The team used data collected in the area surrounding Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, to see how far the degradation “waves” had travelled between 1991 and 2005.

“The first wave that emanates is high-value timber, and that is mostly used for export,” explained co-author Antje Ahrends, an ecologist at the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh.

“There has been a massive demand for this in China, and this is where most of the timber ends up.”

Dr Ahrends said the first wave moved out from Dar es Salaam rapidly, averaging about nine kilometres each year, because the “timber companies had lorries and loads of people working for them”.

“For the firms, it is only worthwhile to stay in a forest when timber can be accessed relatively easily,” she told BBC News.

“So once it becomes not so easy to get hold of the rest, the companies generally move on.”

The first wave had already moved outside of the team’s study area, and Dr Ahrends estimated that it was already more than 200km from Dar es Salaam.

The second wave saw trees being felled for medium-valued timber, which was generally used in the city for construction and furniture.

“This is expanding very rapidly, in line with urban migration,” she explained. “The town has an average growth rate of about 7% each year, so there is – again – a rapidly growing demand for this material.”

The timber is harvested by local companies, again with lorries, allowing large volumes to be collected in a relatively short space of time. This resulted in this degradation wave to also cover about nine kilometres each year.

The third and final wave involved local people collecting wood to make charcoal for cooking.

“It’s the most destructive of all of the waves because charcoal burners would collect everything,” observed Dr Ahrends, who was based at the York Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Dynamics when she carried out this research.

“It is only worthwhile moving on once there are no sizeable trees left in the forest.”

As a result, the charcoal wave had moved relatively slowly – from 20km outside Dar es Salaam in 1991 to 50km away in 2005.

“It is the most difficult of the waves to tackle because it is very poor people who burn charcoal and their livelihoods depend upon it.”

“Targeting that wave would mean trying to provide alternative resources for cooking, and alternative incomes for people who burn charcoal.

Species loss

The team also developed their model to gauge what impact forest degradation had on “public good” services, such as carbon storage and biodiversity.

They did this by recording what species of trees were in a particular area of the study, and what size the individual trees were.

“This later enabled us to calculate species richness and also the amount of carbon those trees were storing,” Dr Ahrends said.

“We found that there was a very strong linear impacts; for example, tree species richness dropped to only 14 species-per-sample-unit close to Dar es Salaam, whereas it is more than 40 species in areas 200km away.”

Dr Ahrends suggested that the model could be used to understand the impact of forest degradation in other sub-Sarahan nations in Africa.

“This is because conditions are very similar: high levels of corruption, weak law enforcement and very rapid rates of urbanisation.”

She added that the team’s model could help policymakers who were looking at ways to limit deforestation rates.

“What is really important is to understand the pattern of degradation and the way it spreads,” she suggested.

“While we have a good understanding of deforestation – which is the complete clearance of a forest – it is much more difficult to measure degradation.

“So if you have this simple model, then you have a basic understanding of how degradation might spread… which may help you develop some prediction of where it might spread from and how far it might spread.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 03/08/2010

Quarter of PNG’s rainforests ‘lost to logging’


Nearly one quarter of Papua New Guinea’s rainforests were damaged or destroyed between 1972 and 2002, Mongabay.com reports.

Researchers, writing in the journal Biotopica, said the results – published in a report last June – show that Papua New Guinea is losing forests at a much faster rate than previously believed.

Over the 30-year study period, 15% of the nation’s tropical forests were cleared and a further 8.8% were degraded through logging.

“Our analysis does not support the theory that PNG’s forests have escaped the rapid changes recorded in other tropical regions,” the authors wrote.

“We conclude that rapid and substantial forest change has occurred in Papua New Guinea.”

Deforestation and forest degradation in Papua New Guinea are primarily driven by logging, followed by clearing for subsistence agriculture.

Since 2002 (a period not covered in the study), reports suggest that conversion of forest for industrial agriculture, especially oil palm plantations, has increased.

The study is based on comparisons between a land-cover map from 1972 and a land-cover map created from nationwide high-resolution satellite imagery recorded in 2002.

The authors found that most deforestation occurred in commercially accessible forest, where forest loss ranged from 1.1 to 3.4% each year.

Overall deforestation was 0.8 to 1.8% per year, higher than reported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), but lower than the rate of deforestation on neighboring islands, including Borneo and Sumatra.

Papua New Guinea’s primary forest cover fell from 33.23 million hectares to 25.33 million hectares during the 30-year period.

In the same period, almost 93 million hectares of forest were degraded by logging.

Lead author Phil Shearman, director of the University of Papua New Guinea’s Remote Sensing Centre, said that without incentives to keep forest standing, Papua New Guinea would continue to lose its forests.

“Forests in Papua New Guinea are being logged repeatedly and wastefully with little regard for the environmental consequences and with at least the passive complicity of government authorities,” Dr Shearman said.

He noted that nearly half of the country’s 8.7 million hectares of forest accessible to mechanised logging have been allocated to the commercial logging industry.

But he added that there may be hope because Papua New Guinea had become a leader in the push by tropical nations to seek compensation from industrialised countries for conserving forests as a giant store of carbon.

The mechanism known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) could potentially provide billions of dollars for conservation, sustainable development and poverty alleviation.

“The government could make a significant contribution to global efforts to combat climate change,” observed Dr Shearman.

“It is in its own interest to do so, as this nation is particularly susceptible to negative effects due to loss of the forest cover.”

UN studies have show that coastal communities in Papua New Guinea are particularly at risk from climate change.
Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 23/02/2009

DR Congo cancels timber contracts


The Democratic Republic of Congo government has cancelled nearly 60% of timber contracts in the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, the BBC News website reports.

It follows a six-month review of 156 logging deals aimed at stamping out corruption in the sector and enforcing legal and environmental standards.

At the end of the World Bank-backed process, government ministers found that only 65 timber deals were viable.

New contracts will be issued for 90,000 sq km (35,000 square miles) of forest.

Environment Minister Jose Endundo told a news conference in the capital Kinshasa that the other agreements would be cancelled.

“I will proceed within the next 48 hours to notify those applicants having received an unfavourable recommendation from the inter-ministerial commission through decrees cancelling their respective conventions,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

“Upon notification of the cancellation decision, the operator must immediately stop cutting timber.”

Mr Endundo also said the government planned to respect a moratorium, introduced during Congo’s 1998-2003 war but widely ignored, on granting new logging deals.

The BBC’s Thomas Fessy in Kinshasa says all the timber agreements were struck during the conflict.

Amid rampant corruption, huge concessions were gifted to logging companies, which paid almost no tax, he says.

Monday’s decision should reduce the surface area exploited by timber firms by up to half, according to our correspondent.

The Congo Basin is home to the second largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon, but campaigners say it is being eaten away by logging, mining and agricultural land clearance.

Sarah Shoraka, of Greenpeace, says the new rules must be enforced to protect a vital resource.

“Real economic development is what’s needed,” she told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

“We’ve highlighted tax evasion, and there’s often quite serious disputes between local people and these logging companies.

“The logging companies promise hospitals and schools and they hardly ever deliver these things on the ground.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 19/01/2009

Disagreement over rainforest recovery


Will rainforests survive? That was the topic of a debate at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

Satellite data and other research has revealed that huge tracts of abandoned tropical forests, which were once logged or farmed, are regrowing.

This evidence has prompted a contentious exchange of views and theories among scientists around the world.

One camp suggests that the regrowth of rainforests has been overlooked, resulting in the current “biodiversity crisis” argument, which fears that half of the world’s species could be lost in the coming decades, is too pesimistic.

However, another school of thought contends that only about half of the plants species originally found in rainforests will return to the areas, and that many animals will not survive the transition.

Others warn that the continuing expansion of netoworks of access roads into rainforests will make it easier for poachers and loggers, threatening the existence of tropical species even further.

Cristian Samper, director of the National Museum of Natural History, who presided over the debate, said: “By bringing together the world’s most foremost authorities on different aspects of rainforest sicence, we hope to achieve new insights into a situation with potentially profound implications for all species, including ours.”

Using a combination of satellite data and field research, estimates suggest that:

  • ten million square kilometres have been cleared of at least half of their wood cover for human uses, includingtimber and agriculture
  • five million square kilometres have been selectively logged, often with high-impact methods that leave forests degraded
  • Of the intact forests remaining, about 275,000 square kilometres – an area bigger than the UK – were felled in five years (between 2000 and 2005)
  • approximately 350,000 square kilometres  (about 2% of original forested areas) are in some stage of regrowth, primarily in South Asia and Latin America.

According to Greg Asner from the Carnegie Institution, deforestation was the most profound change underway in tropical rainforests.

However, he added, land abandonment was the second most important trend, with the majority of the abandonment occurring in upland areas that offered marginal farming opportunities.

Often, the inhabitants departed to pursue better income opportunities in lowlands and cities.

He added that regrowth was relatively quick:  the forest canopy closed after just 15 years; after 20 years, about half of the original biomass weight had grown back.

Joseph Wright, from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, noted that more than 20% of all land within 10 degrees of the equator had acquired protected status, and that the tropics had a percentage of protected land greater than North America, Europe or Japan.

He and colleague Helene Muller-Landau asserted in a 2006 study: “Large areas of tropical forest cover will remain in 2030 and beyond.

“We believe that the area covered by tropical forest will never fall to the exceedingly low levels that are often predicted.”

They added: “Extinction will threaten a smaller proportion of tropical forest species than previously predicted.”

Their position was partly based on UN predictions of growing urbanisation and slower population growth.  As a result, the abandoned areas will recover and tropical species spared, they contend.

But William Laurance, also from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, argued that secondary and degraded forests would sustain only a fraction of existing animal species.

He added that birds and mammals were more vulnerable to the altered habitat than insects and other small organisms.

Forest destruction in years past was largely the result of land being cleared for small-scale farming, he observed.

However, trade globalisation was fostering large-scale industrial agriculture, logging and mining; all of which was accelerating forest destruction.

The world was now losing the equivalent of 50 football fields of old-growth forest every minute, he warned.

“Rainforest regrowth is indeed occurring in regions but most old growth is destroyed,” he said.  “In biodiversity terms, this is akin to a barn door closing after the horses have escaped.”

The findings from the debate, and the evidence presented by the speakers, will be published as papers in a special edition of the journal Conservation Biology.

Source: Smithsonian press release

Date: 12/01/2009

Brazil government ‘worst logger’


Brazil’s government has been named as the worst illegal logger of Amazon forests by one of its own departments, the BBC News website reports.

The Environment Ministry has drawn up a list of the 100 worst offenders and says all of them will be charged.

Topping the list was the Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra), a government department which distributes land to the poor.

The revelation came after an official report revealed that deforestation in the Amazon region was gathering pace.

The six largest deforested areas since 2005 all belonged to Incra, Environment Minister Carlos Minc said.

In total 550,000 acres of the world’s largest rainforest was destroyed on those six properties.

Greenpeace has accused Incra officials of illegally handing over rainforest to logging companies and creating fake settlements to skirt environmental regulations.

But Incra’s president, Rolf Hackbart, said all the areas cited by Mr Minc as being deforested by his department were areas legally settled between 1995 and 2002.

Mr Minc told a news conference he would take legal action against all of the loggers.

“We’re going to blow all 100 of them out of the water and then some,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, official data released by Mr Minc showed a renewed increase in the rate of deforestation.

About 760 sq km (300 sq miles) of the Amazon was destroyed last month, compared with 230 sq km in August 2007.

“It was a terrible result,” Mr Minc said.

He blamed expanding cattle and farm activity, as well as land theft through the falsification of property titles.

The environment minister said he would create an environmental police force with 3,000 armed officers to help combat deforestation.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 30/09/2008

Borneo tribes under threat from logging lobby


Mongabay.com has featured a story that says the Malaysian government is attempting to quell indigenous opposition to logging in the rainforests of Borneo.

The report says that an environmental group has evidence that community leaders are being deposed and replacing them with timber company stakeholders.

The Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss NGO that works on behalf of the forest people of Sarawak, Malaysia, says that the headmen of at least three Penan communities that have opposed logging have lost official recognition from Malaysian authorities over the past year.

A spokesman for the NGO added that the the government is working to install representatives who support logging.

“The non-recognition of the elected community headmen by the Sarawak State Government is a clear violation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” stated the Bruno Manser Fund in an emailed release.

“The Declaration, which has been adopted by Malaysia, upholds in its article 18 the right of indigenous communities ‘to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures’.”

The Penan communities of Sarawak have waged a long battle against the logging of their ancestral homeland in the rainforests of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo.

The opposition reached a peak in the 1980s when the Penan blocked logging roads and sabotaged equipment.

The Malaysian government responded by closing down media access to the area and sending in armed forces to violently supress the unrest.

While the attacks on the Penan brought international attention to the rampant rate of logging in Borneo’s forests, little appears to have changed in the long-term.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 09/09/2008

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