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Project Amazonia: Solutions - Logging



Since logging contributes to deforestation and has a generally negative effect on the environment of the Amazon, it should be done efficiently and under careful regulation, so that its negative impact is minimized.  Currently, there is excessive illegal logging activity in Brazil, and logging practices are very inefficient; in fact, it has been said that “the timber sector as a whole…is operating outside or against the law.”1  Investigations by the Brazilian government have found that approximately 80% of the logs cut in the Amazon are cut illegally, and 70% of all logged timber ends up as unusable fragments or sawdust.2  Clearly, this situation is not sustainable.



We propose that there should be stricter enforcement of logging permits and stricter regulation of logging practices, and that technology should be developed to improve the efficiency of logging operations.



Profits from logging accounted for 4% of Brazil’s GDP in 2000.  Although this is not a huge figure, it is still significant enough to have an impact on the country’s overall economic health.  Furthermore, the country exports significant amounts of highly valued timber products.  In 2000, Brazil exported 30,968 tonnes (31,600 tons) of mahogany, and the US alone imported 72.4 percent of this total quantity, at US$28.2 million.2  Clearly, it would not be reasonable or realistic to try to stop logging completely.

However, the large proportion of illegal logging should not be tolerated.  First, we need to consider that this illegal logging takes on several different forms.  In one case, small scale operations work in remote locations and avoid detection.  In some other cases, loggers use false permits to steal from protected areas and indigenous lands.2  Finally, some illegal logging operations are practiced by national and international companies, under the cover of their legally approved operations.  Companies cut logs illegally, then forge documents which claims that the logs were cut on the property of the forestry operation.3  To make matters worse, Brazil’s capacity for inspection and monitoring of logging methods is weak, so there is a reliance on “voluntary measures and good faith of the economic agents involved in the trade,”4 a reliance that seems to be seriously undermined by the unscrupulous (and illegal) practices of logging companies. 



First, we propose that the Brazilian government should implement a new monitoring system, so that the currently out of control illegal logging can be more strictly regulated.  We suggest that GPS (global positioning systems) should be employed.  (GPS systems give off distinct, known signals that broadcast their own positions.)  These GPS systems could be issued along with all logging permits.  We could then use SIVAM’s monitoring technology to locate areas of logging activity and to confirm the legality of these operations by checking for the GPS signal.  If the signal were absent from an area of logging activity, this would show that the activity was unregulated and illegal.  Then law enforcement could take the proper actions against the guilty parties and put a stop to the illegal logging.

In order to minimize damage to the forest, permits would give permission to log only in carefully selected areas in each state.  These areas should consist of corridors that begin at the periphery of the forest and penetrate inwards.  These corridors should be approximately the width necessary to remove one tree, with room for the branches.  The width of the area left between corridors should be at least ten times the width of one corridor, subject to change (see Testing section).  The locations allocated for logging will rotate on a regular basis, after a period of time which will be determined experimentally.  (We will have to conduct studies to find out how long an area can be logged before its resources are exhausted.)  There are several advantages to the corridor shape.  First, loggers would not have to build new roads into the forest, because they would be gradually working their way into the forest from the outside.  Second, the corridors could be relatively narrow, so the forest could return to them relatively quickly once they were abandoned by the loggers.  Finally, the narrow width of the corridors would minimize the disruption to the canopy.  The SIVAM monitoring technology could be employed once again to ensure that companies were following this practice; if large gaps showed up in the canopy, this would reveal that the loggers were not using proper practices, and they could be fined accordingly or otherwise penalized.

There should also be investment in the development of new logging technologies with several special capabilities:

a)      The ability to direct falling trees so that they do not cause unnecessary damage to the trees that have not been allocated for cutting.  Damage to neighboring trees is currently one of the largest causes of gaps in the canopy.5

b)      The ability to efficiently remove branches and conserve them for future use as pulp or in paper production.  Much of the waste in the logging industry occurs because tree limbs are ignored or discarded.  It would be profitable, and more efficient, to make use of these branches.

c)      The ability to remove the body of the tree from the forest, along the corridor.  This would be better than trying to send trucks along the corridors, because that would cause problems with soil compacting, and because it would require that the corridors become actual roads.  We envision technology that could be laid on the path to move tree trunks down the corridor conveyor-belt style, with a minimal impact on the forest floor.



bulletRaytheon/SIVAM cooperation: Raytheon has already designed an extensive system which can monitor the canopy cover of the Amazon and which could be slightly modified to look for GPS signals.  We would use this system in many of the monitoring aspects of our plan.
bulletGovernment cooperation: For our plan to work, the Brazilian government must be willing to make a concentrated effort to enforce minimal standards for logging and to take action against the illegal logging activity that our monitoring plan will detect.
bulletFunding: We would need funds for the purchase of GPS units (although a portion of this cost could be incorporated into the price of a logging permit), for the development of our new technology, and for enforcement.
bulletBiannual reviews of the condition of logged land: To further protect the environment, we would like to check the logged land on a regular basis to ensure that the land is not being excessively degraded.  Significant fines would be issued for mismanagement (which could help pay for the costs of enforcement).
bulletMaps and estimations: We would need accurate estimations and mappings of the areas which can sustain logging, to inform the selection of areas allocated for logging.



After the implementation of this plan, there are a number of tests that could be performed and indicators that could be observed to analyze its effectiveness.

1.  Deforestation rates: Have they decreased?

2.  Government studies: In the past, the government has conducted studies to determine how much illegal logging has been taking place.  We would hope that the government will continue to conduct such studies in the future, so that we could determine whether or not the quantity of illegal logging had been significantly reduced.

3.  Economic efficiency: Are legitimate logging operations being significantly damaged economically by the new regulations and restrictions that our plan places on them?

4.  Environmental efficiency: We would need to study the conditions of the areas where our new logging methods had been implemented, looking at:

bulletThe rate of re-growth and index of biodiversity in abandoned logging corridors.
bulletBiodiversity indexes in the areas in between the corridors; find out whether 10 to 1 is a sufficiently large ratio of forest space to corridor space
bulletThe length of time for which an area of land can be logged before it reaches its sustainable limit


Expected Results:

1.  We expect that the rate of deforestation will decrease, because our plan would make logging much more efficient.

2.  We predict that illegal logging would be greatly reduced, because our GPS monitoring plan would make government regulation of logging much more feasible.

3.  We anticipate that profit margins would ultimately remain the same or even increase.  Our plan forces logging companies to operate more efficiently, so they would be taking in extra profit from selling their leftover branches.  This profit could compensate for the profit that might be lost as a result of the stricter regulations on which trees can be cut.

4. Naturally, we expect that our plan will be more environmentally efficient than the traditional logging practices.  We do not have sufficient data to make predictions about the exact effects that our plan would have with respect to changes in biodiversity, rate of forest re-growth, etc.  However, any data that we collect about the results of our strategy could be used to make minor adjustments to our plan to improve its efficiency.



Particularly small illegal logging operation might go undetected by our monitoring technology.  However, we hope that by addressing the larger logging operations, the problems associated with logging will be sufficiently reduced so that it will not be necessary to develop a new strategy to deal with these small, isolated operations.

There is also the issue of enforcement.  Historically, many environmental standards have been set, which the government has failed to enforce.  However, it is our hope that, when illegal logging activities have been clearly and irrefutably pinpointed, the government would take the responsibility to take the necessary actions to put an end to these illegal operations. 

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1: FOEI-AP Friends of the Earth International-Amazon Project, 1996, Forest Management at Loggerheads, p. 15

2: “Amazon Expedition 2001” Greenpeace, available at http://archive.greenpeace.org/~forests/forests_new/html/content/reports/Amazon_logging.PDF

3: “High Stakes; Land Rights and Policy” Forests Monitor Ltd., available at http://www.forestsmonitor.org/reports/highstakes/part2b.htm

4: Report of the External Committee of Brazilian Congress to investigate foreign companies in the Brazilian Amazon region, Brasilia, 1998

5: Pereira, R., Zweede, J., Asner, G.P., Keller, M., 2001. “Forest canopy damage and recovery in reduced-impact and conventional selective logging in eastern Para, Brazil.” Forest Ecology and Management, 168, 77-89