By: Krishnanunni Ravindran
This month we thought about debunking some of the myths connected with the timber industry and deforestation. So, we have invited Krishnanunni Ravindran, who is an expert in sustainable tropical forestry, to give us his takes on most common five myths associated with forestry.
- The timber industry is the main culprit for the loss of tropical forests and is ruining the rainforest
There is a misconception that logging is the main cause of forest loss. Unsustainable and illegal logging however does damage the forests, but the biggest driver of deforestation in the tropics is agriculture. Agriculture accounts for 73% of the deforestation in tropical and subtropical countries. The majority of this deforestation is to meet the global demand for meat, soya, and palm oil.
Given the growing population, agricultural expansion by clearing forests is considered inevitable. However, 30% of the food we grow globally gets wasted every year which means the land used for growing them is also wasted. By preventing food waste, we could feed more people using the same available arable land.
Commercial agriculture mostly prioritizes short-term financial returns neglecting soil health and biodiversity. This could result in land degradation, forcing people to clear forest lands to grow crops.
- All felling of trees is considered deforestation
People largely believe that all felling of trees is deforestation. Perhaps, this is why people blame the logging industry for the loss of forests. According to ITTO, sustainable harvest of timber is not deforestation. Natural forests are very dynamic ecosystems, and therefore they follow their own cycles of growth, development, and mortality. Even if the forests are left untouched, mature trees could fall themself or are brought down by wind, fire, diseases, large mammals, etc. These natural events of tree falls could damage the surrounding vegetation and wildlife, changing the growth trajectory of the forest to a better or worsening end.
Deforestation happens as a result of the conversion of natural forests to agriculture or other non-natural forest land use or severe and continuous degradation. Sustainable forest operations respect the forests’ natural capacity to regrow, and only a certain number and quality of trees are felled. Also new trees are planted to replace the felled ones in order for the forest to continue a healthy life cycle.
By employing more efficient felling methods like RIL (reduced impact logging), the environmental impacts of logging on the surrounding vegetation and soil are minimized. Even clear-cutting is also a forest management practice to facilitate forest regeneration. Therefore, it cannot be regarded as deforestation when the correct measures are taken to ensure forest regrowth.
- Forests should be left untouched as a carbon store
Natural forests form an important storehouse of carbon. As discussed above, natural forests follow a dynamic life cycle, and any events such as forest fires, bushfires, droughts, etc. could unlock tonnes of carbon stored in the trees back to the atmosphere.
Trees incapsulate carbon more rapidly when they are young, and the carbon absorption rate slows down as they mature. Beyond a certain age (depending on the species), trees start shedding their parts which decay to release the carbon locked in them. Thus, by managing the forests through sustainable harvesting of mature trees, managers help the forests to store more carbon in the future than if they are left untouched.
- Plantation wood should replace wood from natural forests
Most people feel that sourcing wood from plantations is more environmentally sustainable and natural forests should not be exploited for timber or timber products. They believe this could reduce the pressure on natural forests, which is true to some extent. However, fast-growing plantations lack the ecological richness required to support the wide variety of wildlife that a natural forest hosts or the sustainable economies of the local communities.
One-fourth of the world’s population depends on forests for existence and income. Plantations are grown specifically to meet the commercial needs, and therefore locals are sometimes denied access to plantations in many places, depriving them of their livelihoods.
Natural forests do not require intense management like plantations. Hence, their management costs are far less compared to plantations. Given their rich diversity, trees in the natural forests are more resilient to pests, diseases, weeds, and natural hazards. Whereas plantations mostly contain a single species and therefore plantation trees are less resilient to pests and diseases.
Therefore, sustainable harvesting from natural forests does not harm the forests, instead serves many socio-economic and environmental causes.
- Timber harvesting impacts wildlife and their habitats
It is true that timber harvesting affects the wildlife to some extent. Even reduced impact logging (RIL) could bring some changes in the immediate biodiversity of the felling site for a short-term. However, biodiversity could benefit from RIL in the long run as they are intensely planned and carefully executed to minimize any possible impacts on the immediate vegetation and soil.
To provide habitat for all forest wildlife species, forests need to be diverse in terms of age and size of trees, species, and area. Sustainable timber harvesting could help maintain this structural diversity and create a dynamic forest habitat to support a larger biodiversity.
- Fighting deforestation and illegal logging – EIA (eia-international.org)
- News (itto.int)
- Busting Myths About Timer Harvesting And Deforestation – News (chiangraitimes.com)