Tropical Forests Sustainability
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has recently released a report, "Wood for Good: Solutions for Deforestation-Free Wood Products," analyzing tropical wood production’s effect on deforestation and offering solutions for sustainable production. According to the report, governments and businesses must begin using sustainably established plantation forests to minimize the toll logging is taking on tropical forests. Many of the products used every day by American businesses and consumers are made from tropical wood, including paper, furniture, building material and shipping supplies. The destruction of virginal tropical forests for forestry products should be replaced with sustainable and repeatable plantation forests.
A tropical rainforest is an ecosystem type that occurs roughly within the latitudes 28 degrees north or south of the equator (in the equatorial zone between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn). This ecosystem experiences high average temperatures and a significant amount of rainfall.
Tropical rainforests are unique in the high levels of biodiversity they exhibit. Around 40% to 75% of all biotic species are indigenous to the rainforests. Rainforests are home to half of all the living animal and plant species on the planet. Two-thirds of all flowering plants can be found in rainforests. A single hectare of rainforest may contain 42,000 different species of insect, up to 807 trees of 313 species and 1,500 species of higher plants.
"The demand for tropical wood is growing globally, while more and more of the world’s tropical forests are disappearing," said Pipa Elias, UCS consultant and the report’s author. "It is 100 percent possible to harvest timber in the tropics profitably and sustainably. The main roadblock is a lack of political will. Businesses and consumers must demand responsibly manufactured products giving governments and wood producers an incentive to expand sustainability efforts."
The report outlines a threefold solution. Firstly, wood producers and businesses should turn to responsible plantation forests to harvest wood. Plantation forests established on previously degraded lands should be used for wood production and sustainable forest management practices — such as protecting water and wildlife — should be followed.
Plantations forests tend to grow faster than timber in natural forests and more of the wood can be harvested. Using already-cleared areas would help meet market demand for wood, while protecting primary forests. Secondly, the report also calls on governments to institute policies that make sustainable forest management practice attractive to businesses.
Finally, governments, businesses and consumers should demand products certified by programs such as the Forest Stewardship Council and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. While these programs do not prohibit logging from old growth forests, they are the best option currently available for maintaining the profitability of the wood industry while protecting forests.
"Consumers certainly have an important role to play in safeguarding tropical forests," said Elias. "Small, everyday choices like recycling and reducing the demand for new wood absolutely help to protect tropical forests."
In addition to purchasing products that were made, packaged and transported using sustainably sourced wood, decreasing paper use at home helps reduce demand, Elias said. Consumers should buy in bulk to reduce packaging waste, swap paper towels for washcloths, pay bills electronically, and request to be removed from unwanted mailing lists.
Tropical forests are not only home to plants, animals and indigenous communities, but these habitats also purify air and water, and provide food and medicine for millions of people.
Cutting down natural forests also contributes to climate change. Tropical deforestation is responsible for about 15 percent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions — more carbon pollution than the emissions from every car, truck, plane, ship and train on Earth.
"Tropical forests should be filled with the sound of howling monkeys and chirping birds, but when these resources are unmanaged, such sounds are replaced with buzzing chainsaws and falling trees," said Elias. "To reverse the damage caused by deforestation, governments and businesses must work together to integrate sustainability and profitability."
For further information see Tropical Sustainability.
Forest image via Wikipedia.