Logging and Deforestation

(Do the Numbers Add Up?)


Amazon Forest Still Burning Despite the Good Intentions


August 19, 2002

New York Times

TRAIRÃO, Brazil, Aug. 19 — By decree, the official burning season here in the Amazon is supposed to be severely limited in scope and not to start until Sept. 15. Yet the skies south of here are already thick with smoke as big landowners set the jungle ablaze to clear the way for cattle pasture and lucrative crops like soybeans

The Amazon basin, which is larger than all of Europe and extends over nine countries, accounts for more than half of what remains of the world's tropical forests. But in spite of heightened efforts in recent years to limit deforestation and encourage "sustainable development," the assault on its resources continues, with Brazil in the lead

On Monday, the United Nations' World Summit on Sustainable Development is to begin in Johannesburg. That conference comes 10 years after an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was attended by more than 100 nations, who signed a series of ambitious agreements aimed at protecting forests, oceans, the atmosphere and wildlife.



In spite of efforts to limit deforestation and encourage "sustainable development," the assault on the Amazon basin continues in Brazil.

As the host country, Brazil was one of the sponsors of those accords. Within three years, however, the annual deforestation rate in the Amazon, which accounts for nearly 60 percent of Brazil's territory, had doubled, to nearly 12,000 square miles, an area the size of Maryland.

Since then, the rate of destruction has slowed and the government has begun numerous initiatives aimed at further curbing the cutting and burning of the forest. Just this week, the government announced the creation of the world's largest tropical national park, in the northern state of Amapá near the border with French Guyana.

But the Brazilian jungle is still disappearing at a rate of more than 6,000 square miles a year, an area the size of Connecticut. What is more, the deforestation is likely to accelerate, environmentalists warn, as the government moves ahead with an ambitious $43 billion eight-year infrastructure program known as Brazil Advances, aimed at improving the livelihoods of the 17 million people in the Amazon.

Over the last 30 years, most destruction in the Amazon has been in a 2,000-mile-long "arc of deforestation" along the southern and eastern fringe of the jungle. But now the government is moving to turn the Cuiabá-Santarém road, which slices through the heart of the forest, into a paved, all-weather highway so that farmers to the south can more easily transport soybeans and other products to the Amazon River and then to Europe.

Soybean production has begun to play a big role in the destruction of the jungle. Both the deforestation here and the growing pressure to finish paving the highway are to a large extent driven by economic developments half a world away, in China. Rising incomes there have created a huge and expanding middle class whose appetite for soybeans is growing rapidly.

As recently as 1993, the year after the Rio conference, China was still a soybean exporter. Now it is the world's biggest importer of soy oil, meal and beans. Brazil, the largest exporter of soy products after the United States, is rushing to meet that demand.

The potential environmental impact of asphalting the 1,100-mile-long road is enormous. About 80 percent of deforestation in the Amazon occurs in a 31-mile corridor on either side of highways and roads, and when these are paved "deforestation goes up tremendously," said Philip Fearnside, a researcher at the National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus, known as INPA.

A paved section of the highway ends barely 12 miles from here, putting this remote and dusty town of 14,000 on the front line of the agricultural frontier. Dozens of sawmills now operate along the road where just a handful existed five years ago, and at night, after government inspectors have gone home, trucks carrying illegal loads of valuable hardwoods rattle down side roads that lead deep into the jungle.

"The sensation is that of being on a battlefield and not having the weapons to defend ourselves," said the Rev. Anselmo Ferreira Melo, the parish priest here.

Trairão, founded in 1993, is named for a game fish that has traditionally been plentiful throughout the Amazon. But the new lumber yards here are dumping so much sawdust into local streams that the fish population has dropped sharply.

No one knows exactly the quantity of greenhouse gases Brazil is already pumping into the atmosphere as a result of such efforts to tame its vast jungle. Though a national inventory of carbon emissions was supposed to have been announced three years ago, it still has not been made public.

But scientists at INPA estimate that Brazil's carbon emissions may have risen as much as 50 percent since 1990. They calculate that "land use changes," most of which occur in the Amazon, now pour about 400 million tons of greenhouse gases into the air each year, dwarfing the 90 million tons annually from fossil fuel use in Brazil and making it one of the 10 top polluters in the world.

Part of the recent decline in deforestation rates is attributable to the Brazilian economy, whose rapid growth was responsible for the spike of the mid-1990's but has since cooled, or simply to weather patterns. But scientists also credit specific Brazilian government steps for the improved performance.

One symbolically important step with practical consequences has been the demarcation of indigenous lands. According to government statistics, more than 385,000 square miles, or 12 percent of Brazil's territory, an area larger than England and France combined, has been formally transferred to Indian control.

As a result, tribes with a warrior tradition, like the Kayapó, Wamiri-Atroari and Mundurucú, have rushed to defend the reserves set aside for them and become aggressive defenders of the forest.

"If you put together satellite images of all the fires burning in the Amazon, you can see the outline of the indigenous areas just from that," said Stephan Schwartzman, senior scientist at Environmental Defense in Washington. "Where Indian land starts is where the fires stop."

In some areas of the Amazon, the Brazilian government's environmental protection agency, known as Ibama, has also played a leading role in deterring deforestation. An environmental crimes law passed in 1998 gave the agency, founded in 1989, new enforcement powers, which it has used, albeit selectively, in raids aimed at arresting and fining the most blatant violators of the law

"Ibama is full of problems and underfunded, but they are still making progress, thanks especially to these blitzes," said Daniel Nepstad of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute in Belém. "The cost of doing business as a logger has increased and the profit margins have gone down, and the sense of impunity that existed just a few years ago has diminished."

But the initiative that the Brazilian government sees as most promising is in the southern Amazon state of Mato Grosso, where deforestation is licensed and monitored by satellite. Though the state's name means "thick jungle" in Portuguese, huge deforestation began in the 1970's and accelerated with the soybean boom of the 1990's.

Since the program went into effect late in 1999, deforestation in Mato Grosso, which has had the fastest growing economy of any Brazilian state, has declined by more than half, to about 4,600 square miles over the two-year period that ended on Jan 1.

Large ranchers and farmers can clear no more than 20 percent of their land, and those who exceed that limit are punished with fines and prison sentences.

"The truth is that nobody ever controlled this, and that you can't control properties one by one even if you have an entire army of men," said Federico Muller, director of the state's environmental protection agency. "But now the satellite does it for us. It's like Big Brother, an all-seeing eye in the jungle."

But the neighboring states of Pará and Rondônia, where deforestation has been equally intense, have yet to adopt the initiative. As a result, loggers, sawmill operators, cattle ranchers, land speculators and other adventurers have simply moved northward up the Cuiabá-Santarém highway, deeper into the heart of the jungle, to areas like this one.

Armed with guns and global positioning satellite locators, loggers are also pushing into the Tapajós National Park west of Trairão and other nature reserves. Peasant settlers here say that they have complaimed to the police and to the environmental protection agency but that nothing has been done.

"Everything functions on the basis of bribes or threats, and so Ibama does not act," said José Rodrigues do Nascimento, who farms 250 acres. "These loggers tell us they have the authorization to go in there, but they never show any papers, and because they have gunman, you don't dare to contradict them."

José Carlos Carvalho, the environment minister, acknowledged problems but promised improvements by next year's dry season, saying that the states of Pará and Rondônia were now installing the same monitoring system as Mato Grosso. In addition, he said, the environmental protection agency is to double the number of its agents, to 2,000.

"We recognize that the predatory occupation of the jungle doesn't work and has to give way to a system of sustainable development, and we are moving in that direction," he said.


*     *     *     *     *




According to the above article, . . .

1.  “The Brazilian jungle is . . . disappearing at a rate of more than 6,000 square miles a year, an area the size of Connecticut.”


2.2.  “The Amazon . . . accounts for nearly 60 percent of Brazil's territory.”


3.3.  “80 percent of deforestation in the Amazon occurs in a 31-mile corridor on either side of highways and roads.”


4.4.  “More than 385,000 square miles, or 12 percent of Brazil's territory, an area larger than England and France combined, has been formally transferred to Indian control.”


5.5.  "The cost of doing business as a logger has increased and the profit margins have gone down,


6.6.  “Deforestation in Mato Grosso, which has had the fastest growing economy of any Brazilian state, has declined by more than half, to about 4,600 square miles over the two-year period that ended on Jan 1.”

However, an examination of the facts suggests a different conclusion:

1.  If Indians control 385,000 square miles of land . . .

2.  And if Indian land accounts for 12% of Brazil . . . . 

3.  Then, all of Brazil equals about 3,208,333 square miles.

In addition . . .

4.  If the rain forest equals 60% of Brazil . . .

5.  Then the rain forest equals about 1,925,000 square miles.

Consequently, . . .

1.  The 6,000 square miles of forest being cut each year represents .31% (0.0031) of Brazil’s rain forest.

2.  At the present rate of cutting, it will take 320 years before Brazil’s rain forest is removed. (assuming that no additional trees are either planted or grow naturally.)




*     *     *     *     *


Here is another article which discusses the effect of logging on deforestation . . .



Logging Jobs Benefit Pygmies, but Imperil Their Forest Home

February 16, 2003

February 16, 2003

New York Times

POKOLA, Congo Republic (AP) — For Pygmies logging the rain forests of central Africa, the chain saw's whine signals the promise of work — and threatens a way of life.

As the Congo Republic's timber industry picks up after years of ruinous civil war, international logging companies are cutting swaths deep into the heart of the huge Congo basin.

The boom puts the Pygmies in a wrenching dilemma: tree by tree, the jobs it gives them are destroying the forest home where they have lived for millenniums.

"It's out of a need to survive that I work with the timber companies," said Bekou, a Pygmy logger. "Our life is impossible outside the forests."

Loggers say they offer jobs and schooling, and want to save Pygmy culture. But the Pygmies say each tree felled means less leafy cover for the striped antelopes they hunt and brings them closer to losing their heritage.

"Our only hope is that our forests not be totally destroyed," said Daniel Kaya, one of about 160 Pygmies working for the Swiss-German company Congolese Industrial Wood, known by its French acronym, CIB.

The Congo basin holds about one-fourth of the world's tropical forests and is the largest stretch of unbroken forest in the world aside from the Amazon. Each year, logging eats up 3,125 square miles of lush woods, an area twice the size of Rhode Island.

It is already changing the way of life for the Pygmies, believed to be the earliest inhabitants of central Africa. While many survive by hunting and gathering deep in the jungle, others have already left the forests in search of jobs.

"Today, we need to travel great distances, or simply emigrate, to find something to eat," said Florent Bekou, another Pygmy who works for CIB.

Between 5 and 10 percent of the Congo Republic's 2.9 million citizens are Pygmies, many of whom stand less than 5 feet tall. Over the centuries, the legendary hunters retreated deep into the jungle to keep away from more powerful Bantu tribes.

During the 1990's, three civil wars devastated the Congo Republic and silenced the chain saws in the jungles. An insurgency still rages in the south, but as peace spreads through the north, so do the lumber companies.

In recent years, logging companies have contributed about 7 percent of the country's foreign earnings, second only to the oil industry.

"In the long term, the situation risks becoming critical for the population, because all the forest in the northern Congo Republic has already been assigned to the logging companies," said Paul Elkan, an official for the United States-based Wildlife Conservation Society based in the Congo Republic.

The logging has denuded swaths of the forest, and conservation groups say it endangers rare animals including gorillas, whose numbers have dwindled to only a few thousand in the Congo Republic and Rwanda.

But conservationists say companies are trying to help the Pygmies and reduce the environmental damage. Selective logging allows companies to fell choice trees without denuding whole tracts of woodlands.

In January, the United States announced a four-year, $53 million donation to help protect the forests in the Congo basin. France has offered a similar amount.

In July 2001, about 100 square miles of the Congo Republic's rain forest were declared protected land in an agreement reached by government officials, the Wildlife Conservation Society and CIB, the largest logging company in the country.

But that is not much compared with the size of the entire basin — 840,000 square miles. It spans parts of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Congo Republic.

Pygmies make up about 10 percent of CIB's work force of 1,600 here, said Patrick Geffroy, a top company official in Pokola, 720 miles north of the capital, Brazzaville.

The company has built housing for its employees, although many Pygmies have shunned it in favor of their own huts — squat shelters of sticks, leafs and mud. CIB has also built a school in Pokola, with about 1,100 pupils, although only two are Pygmies, Mr. Geffroy said.

The company is trying to help protect Pygmy culture, he said.

"The Pygmies have remarkable artistic talent," he said. "When they sing in the open air with their clear voices, you think that you are in front of the best cathedral chorus in Europe.

"They are human beings who have the right to live in their natural space."





As with the first article, the facts included in the second article do not suggest that the forest of the Congo Basin is in imminent danger of over-exploitation either.


According to the above article,


1.  The Congo Basin comprises 840,000 square miles.


2.  Logging  within the Congo Basin consumes 3,125 square miles of forest every year.



1.  The 3,125 square miles of forest being cut each year represents .37% (0.0037) of the Congo Basin forest.

2.  At the present rate of logging, it will take 268 years before the Congo's rain forest is completely removed (again, assuming that no additional trees are either planted or grow naturally).





*     *     *     *     *


Seeing the Wood

The Economist

Nov 16th 2006


A new way of counting trees finds more of them than was thought


THE clearing of forests for agriculture or logging is progressing at a worrisome rate around the world. But that is not the whole story. A new study shows that, in richer countries at least, many more trees are springing up than are being felled.


Researchers led by Pekka Kauppi of the University of Helsinki in Finland sought to identify exactly how much carbon is stored in the world's forests. They analysed reports on the state of forests in 50 countries in 1990 and 2005 compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. They also used information contained in national databases dating back hundreds of years.


Instead of merely estimating the area of forest in each part of the world (the traditional way of measuring forest cover), they took into account the volume of timber, the weight of the organic matter and the density of trees to calculate what they dubbed the “forest identity”, a measure of the carbon-capturing capacity of forests. The results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that in all the countries that have a GDP per head of $4,600 or more—making them richer than, say, Chile—forests are recovering. Some countries that are poorer than this but which have policies to promote tree growth also showed an overall increase in their capacity to sequester carbon dioxide.


Globally, the total number of trees and associated organic matter has fallen year on year, in some places for as long as records have existed. Poor management in Brazil and Indonesia has been a particular problem: both countries lost greater volumes of timber than America and China even though America and China harvested more wood.


But elsewhere the picture was less gloomy. Tree cover in tropical areas such as El Salvador and the Dominican Republic has grown in recent years. Russia and Scandinavia are gaining trees. In fact all major temperate and boreal forests are expanding. The researchers calculated that the “forest identity” had increased over the past 15 years in 22 of the world's 50 most forested countries.


Forests are also gaining ground in the world's two most populous countries, India and China. Although it is still a poor country, India's forests are no longer shrinking. In China the density of forest has fallen since 1949 in many parts of the country but the area of its forested land has steadily risen. The net result is an increase in the volume of China's standing timber. Other Asian countries that have gone from deforestation to afforestation include South Korea and Vietnam.


The researchers argue that the trend is partly the result of social changes that occur as countries develop and become wealthier, such as the movement of rural dwellers to cities. Urbanisation decreases the likelihood of trees being felled for heating and building. As the world becomes more prosperous, it also becomes woodier. News of the death of forests appears to have been greatly exaggerated.


*     *     *     *     *



A critical analysis of the first two articles shows that neither the Amazon nor Congo Basin forests are in imminent danger of disappearing, as has been either claimed or suggested.  However, this does not imply that there are no problems associated with logging in either the Amazon or Congo Basins or elsewhere.  There are likely to be a variety of specific social and ecological concerns that need to be addressed as the demand for lumber in these regions increases.  This has happened wherever extensive logging and lumber manufacturing have occurred, including in the U.S., Europe and Japan.  Although large-scale logging occurred in all of these areas, complete deforestation has not occurred in any one of these areas.  Indeed, none of these areas has even come close to depleting its forest resources.  Over 60% of Japan is still covered with forests, despite having a population almost half the size of the U.S. living in a country the size of California.  In addition, annual timber growth in the U.S. exceeds harvest each year by 55% and has exceeded harvest every year for the past 50 years.  As a result, there are more trees in U.S. forests today than at any time since around 1900. Indeed, the third article indicates that, contrary to general opinion, forests throughout the world are increasing. especially in the more developed (i.e., wealthier) countries.  Rather than drawing hysterical conclusions based on selected data, it is important that we view current developments within a larger evolutionary context.  This means moving away from Malthusian models of population growth that are based on a fixed relationship between population and resources to a non-Malthusian model of human ecology in which the relationship between population and resources is both variable and influenced by changes in technology.  We also need to ask how our understanding of contemporary developments can be enhanced by an examination of similar developments that have already occurred elsewhere.  More importantly from a social science perspective, we need to ask ourselves how we can most effectively develop and test theories that connect resource exploitation with social evolution and economic development which place contemporary developments within a broader theoretical and historical perspective.


*     *     *     *     *




Cultural Syllabus

Human Ecology Syllabus




Hit Counter