Forest Ioggers plead 'not guilty'
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Esteve, Jean. 1990. Forest Ioggers plead 'not guilty'. Spore 30. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Jean ESTEVE, he is a forestry scientist and consultant who has been with the Centre Technique Forestier Tropical (CTFT) for the past 25 years. CTFT is the forestry department of Centre de Cooperation Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le...
Jean ESTEVE, he is a forestry scientist and consultant who has been with the Centre Technique Forestier Tropical (CTFT) for the past 25 years. CTFT is the forestry department of Centre de Cooperation Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Developpement (CIRAD) . The people who exploit forest resources, even on a relatively small scale, have a poor reputation in the eyes of ecologists. It is they who are held responsible for the disappearance of 16-20 million hectares of tropical forest each year. Now a recent scientific study of the African rainforest has been completed by the CTFT. This has gone a long way towards determining how this responsibility is shared among forest users, pastoralists, farmers and policy-makers. This research amounts to a plea from Jean Esteve for a global policy on the management of this resource. What exactly constitutes rational and sound forestry management? And what effect would it have on conserving the tropical forest ecosystem? These are questions of prime importance which need to be answered objectively. Well-intentioned ecologists who, unfortunately, are frequently misin-formed tend to blame both those who exploit the forest, whether on a small or large scale, and also the countries them-selves for the current deforestation of the tropical zones. But, in Africa these groups cannot be held solely responsible for the disappearance of the forests. Such a view completely disregards other more important causes of deforestation, which are often irreversible: for example extensive grazing, slash-and-burn or shifting agriculture, and the pressing need for clearing land for agriculture in areas of high population growth. For most African countries with forests it is an economic necessity to exploit their resources: often it constitutes one of their principal means of earning convertible currency. However, research shows that often this may be the first and only sylvicultural activity carried out on a mature forest. CTFT's long-term research and other studies demonstrate that when the plant cover is opened up in this way the forest environment reacts swiftly, bringing about a far higher growth rate than that of virgin forest. Furthermore, since forest land utilized in this way generates income for the country concerned, it will be better protected from agriculture than unmanaged forest. But development must be rationalized in order to protect the future of the forest and to conserve its biological diversity. The dense African forest is heterogenous, containing hundreds of different species. This means that the exploitation of forest stands is progressive and selective. There are 300-600 tree species, but only a hundred or so have any recognized technical value, either currently or in the future, and of these only 30 to 50 are habitually exploited for profit. Therefore the forestry worker tries to stay selective in the way he chooses trees for felling, according to various factors: type, height, circumference, or defects of trees; distance from towns and market forces. Usually only an average of 0.5 to 3 trees per hectare are cut, thus exploiting only 4 to 25 cubic metres (though more usually 5 to 15 cubic metres) out of a potential 200 cubic metres, when trees of more than 10cm diameter are taken into account. Felling should be based on carefully compiled and updated forest inventories and should remain moderate. The annual quota felled per ha should not exceed annual growth rate. Extraction methods must also be improved: fellers and loaders must be better trained, and the road network developed to take into account rich potential forest areas. At present, a forest road network destroys about 5 to 6% of tree cover. Damage caused by felling to surrounding trees also is about 5%, but usually considerably less. And in a forest holding of between 50,000 and 200,000 ha the clearance needed to create living and processing areas for the forestry workers does not generally exceed 0.3 to 0.6% of the forest area. Globally, timber logging would destroy no more than 6 - 9 % of the forest canopy if extraction were restricted to 10-15 m3/ ha. So this is further evidence that destruction of forest canopy is directly linked to logging intensity. Extraction of more than 40 m3/ha would mean canopy loss closer to 10%. In my opinion, the management of forests in Africa is both rational and has no long-term deleterious effect on the forest masses and ecosystems. But although multidisciplinary research will be needed to discern the exact nature of its effect on the environment, current general opinion suggest that this is neither out of hand nor irreversible. However, in the densely populated areas, the forest must be protected against extensive agriculture. Care must be taken that the forest road network does not open up the forest and allow access to slash and burn agriculture which will ultimately destroy it. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA.
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