Scientists have found that “sustainable” logging operations in the Brazilian Amazon are not actually environmentally sustainable. Previously considered a renewable resource, tropical hardwood populations never have enough time to recover after being logged, according to researchers from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences. The study, just published in PLOS ONE, shows that many of these tropical timber species are exploited to the point of population collapses.
Neotropical timber production is a huge, economically important industry. Most neotropical forest roundlog production occurs in the Brazilian Amazon. Brazil is responsible for 85% of the logging, with the State of Pará accounting for half of the timber production in the country. Several tropical timber species have long been considered renewable resources, including rosewood and Brazilian walnut trees. In the past, however, no research had been conducted to verify the sustainability of these logging practices.
The researchers were present during the legal logging of 17.3 million cubic meters of timber. They analyzed 314 timber species logged from 824 different areas in the State of Pará. The team found no evidence that timber populations recover after the first logging in an area. The most economically valuable species become rare or even extinct in legal harvest areas. Logged forests are less biodiverse and more susceptible to fires. The team found that slower growing hardwood species are targeted first and these species struggle to regenerate.
The study shows that so-called sustainable harvests are damaging to the tropical forests. Many hardwood species fail to fully recover after the first logging operation. Slow growth, lack of biodiversity, and increased forest fire risks make population collapses inevitable. The authors recommend that the legal quotas and standards be reviewed again, taking this new information into account. Properly managing the logged forests is important for both environmental and economic reasons. Sustainable logging practices are critical for the long-term economic viability of Brazil’s logging industry.
Vanessa A. Richardson, Carlos A. Peres. Temporal decay in timber species composition and value in Amazonian logging concessions. PLOS ONE (2016).