Better a Logged Forest Than None at All

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Published on February 13th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

A logged forest in the Lesan River area, East Kalimantan retains high conservation values
Forest loss is one of the great threats to the world’s species. Every year, an area of forest is lost nearly as large as my home country, the Netherlands.

Forests disappear basically because someone cuts down trees — how’s that for deep analytical thinking? But interestingly, cutting down trees does not necessarily mean that forests will disappear.

In fact, one of our important strategies here in Indonesia is to work with timber concessions. In natural concessions, trees are selectively harvested for your tropical hardwood window frames and furniture. If that happens carefully, these forests can remain ecological intact and keep most of their conservation function.

We are trying to improve management of these forests to make sure that it is sustainable in the long-term. What we want to avoid is that forests lose their economic value because of overharvesting. Once that happens, the next step is often to convert them entirely to agricultural or forestry plantations. And these have much lower conservation values.

Of course, as you could suggest, why do we not turn this vast area of natural timber concessions into protected areas instead? Wouldn’t that be much better for the remaining tropical wildlife?

Unfortunately, it probably wouldn’t. Even if protected, these areas would still require management to cope with threats from illegal logging and mining, over-hunting, fire and other dangers. But who would pay for that management?

Without the resources to manage them, many protected areas are only protected on paper. There are a lot of examples of such paper parks that have lost their forest and many of the forest species.

With vast areas of forest remaining in Indonesia, a healthy, well-managed forestry industry is a crucial conservation strategy to ensure that more than one-half of the country’s land area can be retained as forests, providing economic revenues as well as significant social and environmental benefits.

(Image: A logged forest in the Lesan River area, East Kalimantan, which still retains high conservation values. Credit: TNC.)

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Comments: Better a Logged Forest Than None at All

  •  Comment from Deane

    The primary destroyer of pristine forests is road access! Anywhere you build a road the ecosystem around it will be legally and illegally exploited, depleted and eventually unravel to the point that mono-crop agriculture, aridification, exhaustion of topsoils will occur. This happens not just from logging only the biggest trees, but from hunting, firewood gathering, squatting, grazing and mining.

    To the extent there are no roads is the extent the ecosystem can continue to function!

    Of course the frame of this post is that you need a fox to guard the henhouse otherwise all the other foxes will eat the hens. My point is once you build inroads for one fox to eat a hen, all the other foxes will use the same inroad to eat more hens… and all the most credible scientific studies make it abundantly clear that selectively harvesting pristine forest in third world countries leads to extreme and “unplanned” exploitation of the forest to the point of total depletion of the forest system in less than a half-decade.

    Of course I’m uncertain if this blog allows dissent? So if this post is not posted here I’ll have to post it on my own blog…

    Long live the trees, Deane
    http://forestpolicyresearch.org

  •  Comment from Erik Meijaard

    Hi Deane,

    Your point about road access is well taken. Access greatly increases threat levels. But more than access, deforestation in Indonesia has more to do with management and ownership. If someone ‘owns’ a forest area (officially the government owns all forests), that owner has strong incentives to keep other people out. On that basis, we have established protected areas managed by local communities in ex-timber concessions where absolutely no one trespasses without getting into trouble with communities. We also work with timber concessions who keep people out (they don’t want anyone to steal their timber either). The problems arise when there is no clear ownership or resources have been depleted and no one gives a damn about what happens to the forest. Then illegal loggers move in, further depleting the forest, and eventually the area is cleared for the next phase of development, i.e. plantations. So, the key is to ensure that forests remain valued as such, either because of their timber value, environmental services, carbon or whatever justifies their protection and management. Without this no one will be interested to manage them and eventually they will disappear.
    The primary destroyer of pristine forests is not road access, which is only a tool to make it happen. The real destroyers are poor planning and management, unclear tenure, and short-term maximizing of profits. Good forest management is one of the options to start changing this.

    Let me know your thoughts on this. All the best
    Erik

    Erik

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