Sunday, October 19, 2014

Can Environmental Groups and Loggers Work to Limit the Destruction of Tropical Forests?

A big and sometimes dirty business: a logging operation in Indonesia.  (Credit: Coco Liu) Click to enlarge.
In theory, trees can lock climate-harmful carbon dioxide into centuries-long storage.  But the reality has often been that the prevailing economics simply level forests to make way for mining, farming and other developments.  The net result is a level of forest destruction that is causing higher emission levels than all the planes, cars, trucks, ships and trains on Earth combined.

Devastating the once-rich forests in Indonesia has turned it into the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the United States.  Data from a 2013 study by the University of Maryland show that at least 700,000 hectares (about 1.8 million acres) of forests is disappearing each year in Indonesia, equivalent to nearly two soccer fields per minute.

Avoiding high-damage operations

Logging is a contributor to such forest losses.  But scientists say about half of the damage from logging operations can be avoided.  According to a recent study published in the journal Global Change Biology, a quarter of the trees that are cut down by loggers end up abandoned in the forest because they are hollow and therefore have low commercial value.

Some trees are dragged down because loggers don't bother to pre-cut vines that connect treetops.  Others are gone due to a lack of thoughtful road planning for trucks operating in the forest.

To ensure that only commercially viable trees are cut down, in 2006, the Nature Conservancy and its partners persuaded the Indonesian government to launch a reduced-impact logging project in East Kalimantan's Berau district, where 40 percent of the remaining forests are planned as commercial logging concessions.

Scientists have spent four years tracking the cause of forest carbon emissions, and the fruit of all that effort now is beginning to reshape the logging operations.

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