Save Tropical Forest, NOW!

By Dave Armstrong - 14 Jul 2016 14:30:0 GMT
Save Tropical Forest, NOW!

The blue morpho male butterflies, in this case Morpho rhetenor, are iconic, representative of the high canopies in which they fly effortlessly out-of-reach. With the old giant trees almost all logged out, how long can we keep any of the rich biodiversity of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and others in the Amazon and all the other exploited forest areas on earth?Blue morpho image; Credit: © MHNT, in Toulouse, France

The idea that we use valuable ecological resources when wood looks beautiful in the house or office has taken far too long to sink in. With the experience of the Swedish paper industry, we accept that trees can simply be regrown We don’t realise that, as always, species are very different. All we consumersare doing is subscribing to the greed of multinational s and entrepreneurs who want market forces to keep rare timber prices high. But the real power is in the consumer, as with Chinese animal parts such as ivory, or salesmen who sell guns to under-age people.

One good approach to stopping the loss of our precious remnants of tropical rainforest is in yesterday’s paper on Temporal decay in timber species composition and value in Amazonian logging concessions from Carlos A. Peres of the University of East Anglia, both long associated with the science of conservation. A slow life history for species such as rosewoods, Brazil-wood, and big-leaf mahogany has meant near extinction, not only by timber extractors but also perfume manufacturers and even Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) industries, long held to be conservation-minded!

It seems to be the economics that governs extinctions. As long as timber is considered renewable by politicians who have little knowledge of the ecologies concerned, there is no hope. Historically, there has usually been a ratchet effect, influencing the oil industry, phosphorus extraction, whaling, the cod fishing wars, and many now-extinct species, including many trees. Such over-exploitation has not always happened. Government of these industries has always been lax and open-access is not a new invention of internet publishing. It was encouraged by many nations, for example, to bolster early economies that demanded more exploitations.

In SE Asia at the moment, Carlos Peres claims we have a peak timber situation in terms of a harvest level that seems optimal for the harvesting companies. In Brazil, selectively-logged forests are more likely to be deforested than unlogged forests, with a frontier-style boom and bust economy analogous to the local farming situation with is burn and ---. Among the 300 commercially valuable trees, old growth trees are harvested first, with later reliance more on the lower value pioneer species with low wood -density. In the 1990s, Peru marketed mahogany from frontier logging areas while the eastern Amazon already had 350 species being harvested, having used up the old growth trees.

In central Africa, they are not immune to greed and the loss of ancient tree stocks. The Congo basin is being logged on an industrial scale, with only 55 species being taken for 95% of the harvest. To maximise your profit, use what is left in the forest to make up the volumes of timber required. The high value alternatives will be missing from a compositional profile of the species the harvesters select. This is a method of spotting how degraded our forests really are. The so-calledfrontiers of logging show up a gradient of species from high value to low value as the area becomes logged out, so we can assess exactly what the loggers are doing.

Professor Peres has a method here that will help prevent the terrible baldness of Indonesia, the loss of most of the giant Amazon forests, or the unimaginable thought of a Congo that is treeless. There is much more in just this one paper, accessed in the open access journal PLOS ONE. The lack of sustainable action is pathetic in the Amazonian example chosen. The tables and chairs of Japan, China, Europe and the US have been supplied for years with the wood from these remarkable forests. Nobody seems able to govern the reckless disregard for the losses of species. Soon there won’t be any new forest areas with the high value old growth trees. Then we’ll be at the elephant ivory stage, where action has been too late, and raised the price of ivory for those who want to take advantage. Already 90% of the timber species and 67% of the total volume of timber (6,439,474m3) taken from the Eastern Amazon are low value, but 54.5% of the revenue comes from high value species!!! Help!