Sustainable Logging Practices


Sustainable logging practices can be used to reduce the damage done by logging to ecosystems. It is not possible to simply eradicate logging, as it is a crucial economic activity on which many people depend. However, it can be done in a more environmentally friendly way. Guidelines for sustainable logging are outlined below.

Sustainable Logging Guidelines

1. Determine the maximum number of trees that can be harvested sustainably.

In forests where large-scale natural disturbances are essential for succession and renewal, such as the boreal forests, clear cutting is a viable method of harvesting trees. For this kind of forest, "wildlife respond positively to the increase availability of nutrients and plant species" that follow clear cutting (Harlow et. al., 2000). Measures can be taken to encourage the process of succession and future growth. These include cutting cleared areas so that they have irregular edges, leaving patches of trees standing, and manually planting seedlings, all of which help speed up the process of reseeding either naturally or unnaturally.

Other types of forest and trees must be treated in accordance with their recovery speeds and processes of succession. For example, in dipterocarp forests, a harvest of eight trees per hectares or less is recommended (Sodhi, 2011). If an area does not have a history of large natural disturbances, like forest fires, then clear cutting does not emulate a natural event. Loggers should not clear cut in areas where such practices have lasting effects on the ecosystem.

2. Logging cycles should be at least 80 years. (Sodhi, 2011)

This is an estimate for all forest types. Using this generalization, the percentage of logging-available trees that may be harvested each year can be calculated. Cutting between 1-1.25 percent is optimal to allow the local fauna and animals to recover between harvests.

3. Logging cycles should depend on the growth standards of mature trees

Different species of trees grow at different rates, with regards to height, width, and density(Sodhi, 2011). Although the estimated time for a logging cycle is 80 years, research needs to be done on the important wood-producing trees in every region to determine the above parameters. (Sodhi, 2011) This will allow the harvester to cut sustainably so that the trees will be available for many cycles to come.

4. Minimize the size and connectivity of gaps

In clear cut regions, it is important to not cut too large an area. As stated in Guideline 2, these areas are meant to simulate a natural disturbance and thus allow recover by means of natural succession. Limiting the size of clear cut areas allows the spaces to be re-seeded naturally and does not overexpose the animals that are using the space. (Sodhi, 2011)

5. When selective logging is practiced, refrain from understory clearance and reduce the impact by minimizing skid trails and damage to the residual vegetation.

Particularly in tropical forests where large natural disturbances are uncommon, understory vegetation should be preserved to maintain the integrity of the land and soil while the woody trees are regenerating. (Sodhi, 2011)

6. "Set aside pristine areas of appropriate sizes (e.g. >1000 ha) with adequate connections to other such areas within logging concessions." (Sodhi, 2011)

In places where forest has not yet been exploited for logging purposes, setting aside sanctuaries can better allow biodiversity to thrive (Sodhi, 2011). This is called the spillover effect. This topic is further explored in the sustainable fishing section. The same principles that apply to sustainable fishing also apply to forests (Brudvig, 2009).

7. "Identify the species of greatest conservation concern (e.g. endangered/threatened species) and ensure that their needs are cared for adequately during logging activities." (Sodhi, 2011)

Keystone species that are threatened by loss and disturbance of habitat should be treated with care. Species important to the balance of the ecosystem are vital to the continued success of the forest itself. The harvester should be made aware of such a situation to ensure that further damage to the species is prevented. Loggers can work together with the Protectors of Biodiversity that are in charge of the area in which they are working to identify these species and develop ways to protect them, while still allowing logging.

8. Convert logged rather than pristine areas into plantations for commercially viable trees.

Much land has already been utilized in some manner for logging. Instead of continuing to dip into the few remaining old-growth forests, it is much more environmentally and biodiversity-friendly to continue to use such land for logging in a sustainable manner (Sodhi, 2011).

9. "Prevent excessive human invasion into logged areas. Attempts should also be made to deny access to the poachers of such areas."

Sustainability in logging areas depends on the process of succession and renewal. Poachers and other excess human disturbances could damage the forest's chance to recover to a matured state.

10. Maintain a buffer strip of at least 30 m between clear-cut land and waterways. (Davies and Nelson, 1994)

Massively cleared areas often have problems with erosion. Although, ideally, root systems are left behind to hold the soil in place, there is bound to be erosion in any clear cut area. Erosion and loose surface soil leads to mud slides and pollution. To prevent this soil from being washed into lakes, streams, and rivers, there should be a minimum mandatory 30m buffer of untouched forest around all waterways.

Current Enforcement of Sustainability Policy:

Illegal logging is the main cause of uncontrolled unsustainable deforestation. Corruption and lack of law enforcement go hand-in-hand, allowing crime syndicates to go unhindered (Kishor, 2006). While there are laws pertaining to the sustainability of logging in many countries, they often go unenforced. In order to successfully preserve biodiversity, logging laws need to be enforced. Ideally, this will be done by governments . The World Bank established the Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) trust fund in 2004. In 2009, it joined forces with Program for Forests (PROFOR) (FLEG, 2010). These programs are designed to assist national and regional reform to implement the laws for sustainable logging.

Economic Implications

The logging industry accounts for 2 percent of the world's GDP and may account for up to 4 percent of the GDP of developed countries (Butler, 2011). Attempts made by governments to slow logging have resulted in loss of revenue because of the successful evasion of taxes. A Hong Kong logging company with operations in Nigeria paid 28 USD to the government for each tree and then sold the trees for 800 USD per cubic meter, or approximately 2900 USD per tree (Kishor, 2006). In Indonesia it is estimated that 42 percent of the area logged annually is done so illegally. The loss accrued by the government is as much as 3.5 billion U.S. dollars (Kishor, 2006). According to the World Bank, national economies worldwide are shorted 10 to 15 billion U.S. dollars not including the loss of tax revenues (Kishor, 2006).

With the enforcement of sustainable practices and successful tax collecting, the total number of trees harvested will decrease. However, these practices are needed to both protect biodiversity and prevent the depletion of a key natural resource. Sustainable logging practices benefit biodiversity by enforcing regulations that allow affected species to thrive. If current practices continue, companies will eventually see a drop in profit caused by a lack of trees to log. But, in the long run, these practices will also benefit logging companies by preventing them from exhausting the very resource on which they are dependent.