Logging Issues Not Clear Cut, Say Conservationists

January 23, 1997

An unlikely tool to save a tropical forest and its wildlife may be the chainsaw, according to participants of a forest-biodiversity workshop, held recently in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society, headquartered at the Bronx Zoo.

Current protected areas in the tropics are too small or far apart to fully protect wildlife, calling for the need to look toward forest departments and their "production forests" to complement the existing system of reserves. Worldwide, logging regimes own more forest land than all national parks combined.

The workshop was attended by foresters, biologists, resource managers, and policy makers, who concluded that many forests slated for logging can be harvested with minimum wildlife losses if proper safeguards are implemented.

"In many production forests, reducing harvesting impacts and regenerating commercial timber species for a long-term yield of lumber offer the best hope of retaining forest cover and the habitat it creates for the native flora and fauna," says Dr. Robert Fimbel, a forest biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. "However, in other areas biodiversity may be best conserved by other means such as gazetting the forest for non-timber production, low-impact recreation, ecological research, watershed protection or some mix of these low-intensity, resource-use activities."

According to the workshop's findings, all forest management activities impact biodiversity, but basic techniques exist to mitigate many of the negative impacts associated with logging. For example, directional felling of trees can reduce destruction of forest structure, while winching and lifting logs instead of dragging will reduce both damage to the regenration of plants and the potential for erosion. In addition, minimizing the number, width, and length of logging roads saves habitat and helps block access to wild areas by hunters, colonists and domestic animals.

Participants also advised leaving at least ten percent of all forest concessions intact as a reservoir for animals and plants to repopulate cut areas. In addition, stream corridors and steep slopes within a concession should be withdrawn from logging to prevent erosion and protect aquatic life.

"Biological diversity is vital to maintaining the long-term health and productivity of natural forests," says Fimbel. "We do not understand or appreciate the roles that all organisms play in this process, but prudence suggests that efforts must be made to maintain suitable habitat within major forest types."

Finally, actions designed to promote socio-economic changes, such as tax incentives to advance sustainable forestry and public education materials including training programs and manuals, were discussed.

A book that reviews the workshop s findings and addresses timber harvesting and wildlife interactions will be released by the Wildlife Conservation Society later this year.
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