Illegal logging continues to plague Madagascar’s rainforest parks


Despite government assurances that it would crack down on the rosewood trade, illegal logging continues in Madagascar’s rainforest parks, according to new information provided by sources on the ground and reported in Wildmadagascar.com.

The sources report logging in three parks: Mananara, Makira, and Masoala. All three are known for their high levels of biodiversity, including endangered lemurs.

Rosewood logs are being transported to Tamatave (Toamasina), Madagascar’s main port, despite a national moratorium on logging and export of precious hardwoods. Most rosewood ends up going to China, where it is in high demand for furniture.

The Malagasy sources report that local law enforcement—the new Brigade Mixte Forestière established to reduce logging—is impeded the Forest Ministry, which has failed to grant them the right to use search warrants on private property.

The sources also claim that rosewood confiscated by authorities is being stolen from official stockpiles.

Illegal logging exploded last year in the aftermath of a military coup that displaced the democratically-elected, but increasingly autocratic president, Marc Ravalomanana.

National parks, especially in the North-East of the country, were ransacked by loggers employed by timber barons who traditionally capitalize on political instability or natural disasters to replenish timber stocks and traffic ill-gotten wood.

Madagascar is now ruled by a “transition authority” that has so far shown little inclination to hold free and fair elections and has been be slow to address the logging crisis despite pressure from the international community.

Source: Wildmadagascar.com

Date:06/09/2010

China timber sector looks at tougher EU/US import rules


The China Timber and Wood Products Circulation Association (CTWPCA) is seeking to establish a body to help importers navigate new environmental regulations in the US and EU that restrict trade in illegally logged timber, reports the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).

In a recent market report, ITTO said that Chinese importers fear failing to meet the new regulations that govern the sourcing of timber products.

The US’s Lacey Act and the EU’s FLEGT ruling put the burden of responsibility on importing companies, holding them to the environmental laws of producing countries.

Companies found to be sourcing illegally logged timber could be subject to fines or worse.

A company accused of using illicit rosewood from Madagascar, was the first company to be charged and investigated under the Lacey Act.

The legislation was amended in 2008 to include “anyone who imported, exported, transported, sold, received, acquired or purchased the wood products made from that illegal timber, who knew or should have known that the wood was illegal.” The firm’s case is pending.

According to ITTO, CTWPCA believes traders need “guidance and support” on the new international requirements.

The body would also set up a “responsible procurement system” for timber imports, seek to address corruption in the timber import and trade sector, and aim to help Chinese timber traders meet international standards.

China already has guidelines governing Chinese companies operating forest concessions overseas.

These compel companies to abide by local environmental laws and take measures to reduce pollution. However, some observers suggest that there is no indication that these mandatory rules are being enforced.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 02/09/2010

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

Campaigners link tiger attacks to deforestation


The Sumatran tiger, a critically-endangered subspecies, is hanging on by a thread in its island home, reports Mongabay.com.

Biologists estimate that, at most, 500 individuals remain, with some estimates dropping as low as 250.

Despite the animal’s vulnerability, large-scale deforestation continues in its habitat mostly under the auspices of one of the world’s largest paper companies, Asian Pulp and Paper (APP).

Shrinking habitat and human encroachment has led to a rise in tragic tiger encounters, causing both human and feline mortalities.

While the connection between deforestation and tiger attacks has been put forth as a possible reason for the rise in attacks, a new study that looks at 12 years of tiger encounters confirms it.

Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of 25 environmental organizations, has mapped out encounters between humans and tigers, many of which ended tragically, and found that the majority took place adjacent to forested areas being cleared by APP.

In Riau Province, Sumatra, 55 people and 15 tigers have lost their lives due to the conflict. An additional 17 tigers have been captured and removed from their habitat.

The study found that 60% of the encounters (147 out of 245) between humans and tigers occurred in areas associated with expanded deforestation by APP and associated companies, under the umbrella of Sinar Mas Group (SMG).

Since 1985, Sumatra has lost half of its remaining forest. Worsening the situation for tigers is the continual decline of prey for the tigers due to heavy poaching by humans.

“With so much forest loss, the tigers have nowhere to go” said Ian Kosasih of WWF-Indonesia.

“In the last month alone, four tigers have been killed in Riau. There are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers estimated to remain in the wild and every tiger killed is a significant loss to the population of this critically endangered subspecies.”

Since beginning operations in 1980, campaigners say the company has been responsible for more deforestation in Sumatra than any other corporation.

It is estimated that APP has pulped a total of 2.5 million acres.

Calls for the company to stop logging natural forests by Eyes on the Forest and other NGOs have so far fallen on deaf ears.

APP supplies Target and Unilever in the United States. Other corporations like Staples, Walmart, Home Depot, and the Australian company, Woolworths Limited, have all cut ties with the paper giant due to an increasingly troubling environmental record.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 18/03 /2009

UK firm barcodes trees to save the world’s forests


Barcoding every tree in an African rainforest sounds as plausible as counting grains of sand on a beach, but this is exactly what one British company has set out to do, reports Kate Walsh for the Times.

Helveta, a technology firm based in Oxford, is developing a system for tracking timber that will help prevent illegal logging and could become a template for forest management all over the world.

Using a system of barcoding similar to that used by supermarkets for stock control, Helveta aims to tag all 90 million trees in 4.3 million hectares of rainforest in Liberia.

The marking process will allow customers in Britain and elsewhere to trace every timber plank or piece of garden furniture back to its stump.

The Liberian government has awarded the company a £1m, four-year contract to implement the system.

A 14-year civil war destroyed much of Liberia’s forestry sector, along with the country’s infrastructure.

At the height of the fighting, the country’s fragile forests were being stripped to pay for weapons. Niangon and Lovoa, high-quality timber used in furniture making and worth up to £180 a cubic metre, was sold to buy guns and ammunition.

Helveta claims its system of mapping is the only one in the world that can guarantee the “sustainability and legality” of timber.

Climate change is making the protection and management of forests a priority – the provenance of timber is therefore becoming “critically important” to retailers such as B&Q and Habitat, the company said.

“Our appetite in the West for ethically-sourced goods – whether it’s coffee or chocolate – is growing and retailers are responding to that,” said Derek Charter, Helveta’s project manager in Liberia.

“There is also a raft of different legislation being put in place – at EU and UK-government level – that will enforce the legality of timber on the retailer. In other words, if retailers cannot prove where the timber has come from, they could be penalised.”

The process of barcoding each tree – about one million of the 90 million tagged trees will actually be harvested – is fairly simple.

A 4cm plastic tag, which has a unique identity number, is hammered into the tree trunk. Only trees over 40cm in diameter can be tagged; anything smaller than that is protected.

After the tree has been felled, another tag (carrying the same identity number) is hammered into the stump.

“The barcode gives a record of where exactly the tree stands in the forest,” said Mr Charter.

“Ultimately, it will create a map of the forest. It also records the species and what that tree would be expected to yield. All this information is stored in our database in Reading.

“If you went into a furniture retailer on the high street and asked where a garden table came from, they will look at the ticket and say it is from a forest in Bolivia but they have no proof – that’s just where they have been told it is from or where the invoice was paid.

“With our system you could go to our website, type in the tree’s identity number and it will show you a map of Liberia and then zoom into the stump where your timber was harvested from. The current principle is that the country can use that information to market its natural resources to the buyer.”

The government hopes that the first tagged log will be exported before the end of the year.

Some conservationists have criticised Liberia’s plans to cut down trees – sustainably or not – instead of setting aside its rainforest for carbon offsetting.

Employment is the government’s biggest argument in favour of logging, together with the tax revenues it will generate.

It is estimated that the forestry sector could employ 10,000 people directly by 2012 and another 30,000-40,000 indirectly.

US Aid, the American development agency, together with the UN and the World Bank, have invested $20m in the country’s forestry sector to prevent a return to the days of illegal logging.

The result is that not a single log has been exported from Liberia since the lifting of the embargo three years ago.

Peter Lowe, forestry co-ordinator at the World Bank, said: “Liberia really has bravely taken the challenge to set regional standards in forest conservation.

“[Barcoding] is the most sophisticated system I’ve seen because it requires levels of transparency that don’t normally exist.”

Source: The Times newspaper

Date: 22/03/2009

Human activity ‘triggers rise in Borneo forest fires’


Severe fires in Indonesia – responsible for some of the worst air quality conditions worldwide – are linked not only to drought, but also to changes in land use and population density, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience.

“During the late 1970s, Indonesian Borneo changed from being highly fire-resistant to highly fire-prone during drought years, marking the period when one of the world’s great tropical forests became one of the world’s largest sources of pollution,” said lead researcher Robert Field, a PhD student of atmospheric physics at the University of Toronto, Canada.

“Ultimately, this abrupt transition can be attributed to rapid increases in deforestation and population growth,” he explained.

“The resulting occurrences of haze currently rank among the world’s worst air pollution episodes, and are a singularly large source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Sumatra has suffered from large fires since at least the 1960s, but Indonesian Borneo seems to have been resistant to large fires, even in dry years, until population density and deforestation increased substantially and land use changed from small-scale subsistence agriculture to large-scale industrial agriculture and agro-forestry.

“We’ve had a good understanding of fire events since the mid 1990s, but little before this due to the absence of fire data from satellites,” said Mr Field.

“However, one of the major impacts of large-scale fires is a reduction in visibility due to the smoke produced.

“Visibility is recorded several times a day at airports in the region, and these records proved to be an excellent indicator of severe fire activity.

“We were able to piece together visibility observations back to the 1960s, and hence develop a longer term record of the fires.”

Having a long-term record of the fires allowed the scientists to better understand their causes.

“Using weather records, we were able to estimate the specific rainfall level below which large fires have occurred in the previous two decades,” Mr Field added.

“In turn, we found that the rainfall over Indonesia was influenced equally by the Indian Ocean Dipole and the El Nino Southern Oscillation phenomena.”

Mr Field concluded: “Hopefully, this information can be used to better anticipate and prevent future haze disasters in Indonesia.”

He said that there was a direct link between the increased prevalence of severe fires and haze disasters and the man-made change in land use.

“The visibility record also showed, quite strikingly, the impact of human settlement on a previously pristine tropical forest.

“This should give pause to further agro-forestry expansion in Indonesia, particularly for oil palm as a source of biofuel.”

Source: EurekAlert

Date: 22/02/2009

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

UK to set tougher timber measures


From the beginning of April, only certified timber and timber products will be able to be used on UK government properties and projects, according to a press release from the UK Forestry Commission.

The material will have to originate either from independently verified legal and sustainable sources or from a licensed Forest Law Enforcement, Governance & Trade (FLEGT) partner.

The change will initially apply to England, Great Britain and UK departments and their executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies.

It is anticipated that the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will follow suit in the near future.

Other public bodies, including local authorities, will be encouraged to follow the government’s lead.

The Forestry Commission says the new policy is designed to combat illegal and unsustainable logging.

It is described as a key element in the effort to help reduce and mitigate climate change by tackling deforestation, which is a threat to societies and the environment around the world.

The UK is a major importer of timber, and the government is at the forefront of global efforts to encourage legal and sustainable management of the world’s forests.

Under the new guidelines, government buyers will have to request evidence from contractors and suppliers that the wood products they propose to supply comply with the policy.

This evidence can take two forms:

Category A – independent certification of the timber and timber products by any of the forest certification schemes that meet the policy requirements, such as those endorsed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC).

Category B – includes alternative documentary evidence that the source forest is known and that it is legally and sustainably managed.

Defra, the Government department with lead responsibility for sustainable timber procurement, has established the Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) to provide training and a free support helpline to public-sector buying agencies and their timber suppliers.

Official figures suggest that about 23% of the timber sold in the UK is sold to government or public bodies.

The Forestry Commission estimates that 80% all timber produced in the UK is certified, including two-thirds of private-sector production, therefore meeting the criteria for Category A timber.

As for Category B, the benchmark for sustainable forest management in the UK is the UK Forestry Standard.

The Forestry Commission and Northern Ireland Forest Service are currently revising the Standard to bring it up-to-date and ensure it is consistent with international criteria.

When this process is completed, compliance with the revised Standard should provide a sound basis for demonstrating sustainable management under CPET Category B.

In the interim, the Commission and Forest Service are working closely with Defra to establish an appropriate protocol to enable all woodland owners to continue to meet the Government’s new procurement criteria from 1st April 2009.

Source: Forestry Commission press release

Date:  02/02/2009

Twiglet: UK woodlands and forests


The social and environmental value of woodlands and forests in the UK is estimated to be in the region of £1bn, states a postnote from the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

Once, most of the UK was covered in woodland but the cover was gradually depleted as the demand for timber, fuel and agriculture grew.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, woodlands made up about 5% of the mainland.

Following the sharp increase in demand for wood products during World War One, the government established the Forest Commission. Its aim was to build a strategic timber reserve.

This was achieved by a large scale planting programme, mainly involving non-native conifers, such as North America’s Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis). The plantations were established on marginal agricultural land.

Overall, the UK has quite a diverse wooded landscape; the majority of the native trees are broadleaves. The nation has three native conifers: Scots pine, yew and juniper.

Woodland is considered “semi-natural” if it is composed of locally native species. A small proportion of the remaining woodlands are considered “ancient”, because their origins can be traced back to before 1600AD.

In recent years, a growing awareness for the need to conserve certain habitats and biodiversity has led to a shift in management practices.

From the primary concern being the production of timber, the focus is now on “sustainable forest management”.

This aims to provide social and environmental goods while maintaining an economically viable forest, protecting it for future generations.

The forestry and timber industry is estimated to contribute £7.2bn a year to the UK economy.

It produces nine billion cubic metres of wood products annually, however this is still less that a fifth (18% in 2007) of the total wood products used in the UK each year.

Most wood in imported. The majority of the imports come from Europe, however a sizeable minority comes from further afield.

Campaigners have identified that some of this wood is harvested from old-growth tropical forests, resulting in the loss of valuable habitat and biodiversity.

Looking more detail at the environmental value of a woodland or forrest, a number of “ecosystem services” can be identified, including:

  • protecting soil from erosion
  • reducing flooding in some catchment areas by intercepting rainwater and reducing run-off in stormy weather
  • helping reclaim contaminated land
  • proving shelter, shade and cooling in urban areas, and wind shelters on farmland
  • conserving biodiversity (broadleaved woodlands contain more than twice the number of rare species, according to the UK BAP, than any other habitat
  • conifer plantations also have role to play in conserving rare species, because they offer protection to species like the red squirrel and the capercaille.

Looking at the role of the UK forest and woodland cover in carbon sequestration, it is probably safest to state that it does have a role to play in mitigating the impacts, but it can never replace a broad strategic effort to decarbonise the UK’s economy and activities.

The UK has adopted a number of international forestry agreements – it was a signatory of the Statement for Forest Principles at the Rio summit in 1992. It also agreed to the general declaration on the Protection of Forests in Europe, which was presented at the 1993 European Ministerial Conference in Helsinki, Finland.

These agreements basically enshrine sustainable forestry measures into a policy framework. Hard to believe, but the European Union has no direct jurisdiction over forestry policy. Instead it is formulated at a member state level.

But there are some EU legislation that has an influence on forestry matters. These include CAP, EU Habitats and Species Directive, Environmental Impact Assessments, and the Water Framework Directive.

Within the UK, forest policy has been devolved to the national administrations. Policy in Scotland and Wales is decided by the national Forestry Commissions on behalf of the national political executives.

Since the widespread adaption of conifer plantations in the UK, most are same-age stands, which are felled in large areas in one go.

This is considered to limit or damage the social and environmental value of the plantations and local habitat, so there are plans to consider alternative management techniques, including:

  • Continuous Cover Forestry – smaller areas are felled in one go, allowing the overall habitat to remain largely undisturbed, and also allowing a mixed-age stand to develop)
  • PAWS restoration – some conifer plantations were created on ancient broadleaved woodlands, so there is a growing commitment to restore “PAWS” (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites)

Even though there is increased protection measures for semi-natural and ancient woodlands (such as SSSIs etc), their wildlife could still be under threat as a result of human activities. Recent surveys show that many woodland species have declined dramatically since the 1970s. One theory for this worrying trend is because it is the result of changes in the structure of the woodlands, stemming from the lack of management.

Threats to the woodland and the species within them include:

  • increasing fragmentation: small patches of woodland, isolated by other land use changes, are more vulnerable to change and can support fewer species
  • decline in woodland management: over the past century, active management of woodlands for timber has declined. This has led to a reduction in open areas within woodlands, on which many species depend, contributing to a decrease in biodiversity.
  • Overgrazing: Increasing deer numbers (including four introduced species) are an issue across the UK. Deer are a part of the woodland ecosystem, but overgrazing affects tree seedlings, ground flora and other wildlife. In upland areas, sheep can also cause overgrazing.
  • Pollution (and other external influences): the threat from acid rain has decreased over the years as the result of tighter emission controls of coal-fired power stations. However, localised air pollution can still be a problem. Fertiliser and pesticide drift from adjacent farmland is an issue on woodland edges.
  • Invasive species: some non-native species (such as rhododendron and grey squirrels) pose threats to woodland ecosystems by damaging or out-competing native species.
  • impact from recreational users: trampling can have a locally significant impact on woodland ground flora. Disturbance by humans and dogs may also affect other wildlife, such as breeding birds.

The future of woodlands is ultimately at the mercy of climate change. Changes are already being observed within the woods in the UK, Oak buds are opening up to two weeks earlier than what they were in the 1950s, probably as a result of warming temperatures.

There is one school of thought that suggests that increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to plants and trees increase the rate at which they convert the gas and nutrients, leading to an increased growth rate.

However, other factors need to be taken into account, such as changes to precipitation or water tables.

All projections and models have a degree of uncertainty within them, so there is not a clear picture of how the nation’s woodlands will look in the future. The only certainty is that they are not going to remain static and change is occurring.

Source: UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (Post)

Date: 02/02/2009 (however the postnote was first published in 2007)

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

EU crack-down on imports of illegal timber


The European Union has taken steps to crack down on illegal timber imports, according to the European Commission.

On its website, the Commission said that illegal logging destroyed millions of acres of forest each year.

It warned that much of the timber ended up in Europe, one of the world’s largest markets for wood products like lumber, plywood and furniture.

About 20% of these imports came from trees that were illegally felled, it added.

Until now, the EU has promoted voluntary action to curb illegal logging. But under a new legislative proposal unveiled on 17 October, importers would have to take certain steps to verify the wood is legal.

The regulation would also apply to timber producers in the EU, where illegal logging has been reported in some countries.

Research shows that illegal logging is wreaking environmental havoc, accelerating deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change.

Deforestation also accounts for almost a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Commission warned that the problem was getting worse, adding that more than half of logging now occurred in vulnerable regions, such as the Amazon basin, central Africa, and south-east Asia.

In some countries, illegal logging is so rampant it far outstrips legal timber production.

Deforestation is expected to be a priority in the upcoming international talks on climate change. The Commission is proposing a global scheme to reward developing countries for cuts in greenhouse gases achieved by reducing deforestation.

The Commission’s website stated: “Illegal logging is not just a problem for the environment.

“It robs indigenous and local people of jobs and resources, and it fosters corruption and organised crime, with profits often used to fund regional wars.

“It also costs governments billions of euros in lost revenues and undermines the competitiveness of legal logging operations in both importing and exporting countries.”

Source: European Commission website

Date: 20/10/2008

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