Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Selective logging is still logging

A recent article in Nature (Hopkin 2005) reports on how the Amazon rainforest is being cut down at a more rapid pace than what has been previously thought. It seems that past surveys have underestimated forest loss due to selective logging. Within the top five logging states in Brazil, selective logging was found to have been responsible for the removal of around 50 million cubic meters of wood within a four-year period. What was supposed to be a more systematic and less destructive process of extracting timber accounted for the clearing of 19,800 square kilometers of forest per year. That's 3,000 square kilometers bigger than what has been lost due to large-scale clearing (for agriculture, road construction, etc.) within the same period. I can see supporters of selective logging in the Philippine Congress and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources squirming on their seats now.

Well, I'm sorry to say this guys, but the story gets more damning than that. Your so-called "responsible loggers" clear forests even in areas within the Amazon that have been set aside for conservation. Let me see, according to the study cited in Nature, that would be about 1,200 square kilometers of forest lands within protected areas where timber are being "selectively" cut down. Apparently, selective loggers have been quite systematic indeed with their work. That's the main reason why past researchers have not been able to easily recognize evidences of selective tree cutting in satellite images. The recent study needs a better software to spot areas where individual trees were cut down while leaving surrounding vegetation intact.

According to the study, selective loggers also tend to target the densest trees in the forest, often belonging to a single or a few species, that are able to retain more carbon in their biomass and thus help in regulating global climate by reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Such harvesting strategy could adversely impact on the forest ecosystem, lessening the occurrence of rain in the area while promoting the growth of more drought-resistant species. I can now well imagine my Filipino friend in Florida, who always likes to call me a "wacko environmentalist", raising some objections at this point: "Hey, wait up, but aren't these drought-tolerant species also able to store more carbon in their tissues?" Well, yes, that's true my friend. But such species are also less effective in preventing soil erosion and floods, and in helping the forest recover from disturbances like logging and other forest clearing activities.

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