COMBATING DEFORESTATION IN THE RAINFOREST
Illegal logging of rosewood The 1997 Kyoto Protocol provided tropical countries with no incentives to reduce deforestation. Although the global warming agreement hammered out in Copenhagen in December 2009 was a regarded as a disappointment one bright spot was support for a program called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). One of the key components of the program is the compensation of developing countries for preserving forest, peat soils, swamps and fields that absorb carbon dioxide.
The United States, Britain, France. Japan and Australia have promised $3.5 billion in fast-start funds to help preserve tropical rainforests.
When deforestation rates decline it is often not clear whether this has happened because of government policies or because economic factors such as the price of beef and soy beans.
A total of 193,000 square miles of forest reserves were created in Brazil between 2006 and 2010. The land reform agency there has stopped building settlements in virgin forest. Laws limit individual land holders to deforesting 20 percent of their land. Statistics have shown that burning of the rainforest dropped to 2,703 square miles year between 2004 and 2009 from a peak of 10,588 square miles a year in the 1990s.
International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) — which was negotiated in 1994 and went into effect in 1997 — aimed to set up a framework for the sustainable management of the world’s tropical forests. It ended up having about as much impact as the Kyoto Accord on global warming. Brazil refused to sign. Other countries like Indonesia have ignored it.
International Efforts That Address Deforestation
In November 2021, as part of the international COP-26 climate change meeting in Glasgow, more than 100 countries signed on to an ambitious plan to halt deforestation by 2030 and pledged billions of dollars to the effort. Although world leaders lauded the move, climate activists say they've heard that promise before and that past efforts have come up short — the world is still losing massive numbers of trees each year. “"Despite ambitious political commitments to end deforestation over the past decade, we are still losing tropical primary forests at an untenable rate," said Crystal Davis, the director of the Global Forest Watch monitoring initiative. "We are running out of time to solve this problem." [Source:Tik Root and Harry Stevens, Washington Post, November 4, 2021]
Tik Root and Harry Stevens wrote in the Washington Post: “There have been global endeavors to combat deforestation in the past. In 2014, for instance, more than 200 governments, companies and civil society organizations signed the New York Declaration of Forests, which called for halving the rate deforestation by 2020 and halting it by 2030. But, Davis said, the world fell far short — "we blew through the 2020 targets that we set." "It's a mixture of lack of enforcement, lack of political will and the private sector not stepping up," said Nathalie Walker, the director of tropical forest and agriculture at the National Wildlife Federation. "There has not been enough follow-through."
“Davis questions the roughly $19 billion in funding that governments and the private sector announced. "It's really just an incremental growth in the amount of finance when we need it to be exponential," she said, adding that she'll also be watching how much of the money makes it to actual projects on the ground. "It's one thing to pledge money; it's another thing to spend money." But Davis also sees some differences this time around. More countries — particularly Brazil and China — are on board, and so is the private sector, which committed $7.2 billion of the funding. That, she said, could play an important role in helping get "deforestation out of the supply chain."
“Davis said she also thinks that people — citizens — care more about this issue than in the past and can help propel political change. A recent United Nations survey of public opinion on climate change found that the most popular policy area was conserving forests and land, with over half of respondents supporting the idea. "I have more hope for that bottom-up public pressure in this decade than the last," she said. "They are the ones that we can [apply] pressure."
According to the Washington Post: “The Amazon is the world's largest rainforest and arguably the most closely watched harbinger of deforestation. The rainforest is 17 percent deforested, and losses are especially pronounced in Brazil, which lost some 1.7 million hectares of rainforest in 2020 alone. "If you're looking at the area cleared, Brazil is usually the worst," Walker said. And of that, "cattle is the single biggest driver" of loss.
Decreasing Rates of Deforestation in the 2000s
Michael Lemonick wrote in National Geographic, “The news from the planet's forests has been surprisingly good lately, at least compared with the news of a decade or two ago. Globally, according to a United Nations report that came out last year, the rate at which forests are destroyed — logged or cleared to make way for farms or mines — was nearly 20 percent lower from 2000 to 2010 than it had been in the previous decade.
Huge tree-planting programs, especially in China, reduced the net loss of forest even further. But vast areas are still being slashed, mostly in the tropics, including each year a Switzerland-size area of previously undisturbed, ecologically precious "primary" forest. Most of those trees are burned, and the carbon stored in their wood literally goes up in smoke. Rough estimates indicate deforestation still contributes around four billion tons of planet-warming CO2 to the atmosphere each year, an eighth of the human total.
The Economist reported: “Brazil’s deforestation rate has dropped astoundingly fast. In 2004 some 2.8m hectares (10,700 square miles) of the Amazon were razed; last year only around 750,000 hectares were. This progress is not isolated. Many of the world’s biggest clearers of trees have started to hug them. Over the past decade, the UN records, nearly 8m hectares of forest a year were allowed to re-grow or were planted anew. This was mostly in richer places, such as North America and in Europe, where dwindling rural populations have taken the pressure off forestland. But a couple of big poorer countries, notably China, have launched huge tree-planting schemes in a bid to prevent deforestation-related environmental disasters. Even in tropical countries, where most deforestation takes place, Brazil is not alone in becoming more reluctant to chop down trees. [Source: The Economist, September 23, 2011]
The global recession was good for the rainforest in that it lowered demand for agricultural goods and things produced on deforested land like rubber and palm oil.
World Bank and Deforestation
The World Bank was sharply criticized for funding programs in the Amazon and Indonesia that led widespread deforestation and destruction of the rainforest. See Amazon. See Indonesia, Transmigration.
In 1998, the World Bank proposed establishing 500 million acres of "sustainable forestry” projects by 2005 and considered removing a seven-year ban on funding logging in virgin tropical rainforests. The same year the World Bank and the World Wide Fund for Nature established the Forest Alliance, which established more than 50 million hectares of protected areas, improved management of about 70 million hectares and became responsible for 22 million hectares of forests earmarked to be used commercially. It also mobilized $50 million in direct investment and found $300 million in long-term project financing.
In 2002, the World Bank adopted a new policy aimed at helping countries manage forests effectively and sustainably. Even so, in 2005 environmental groups in claimed the bank’s forestry programs, aimed at promoting sustainable development, were threatening rainforest and harming people that lived in them.
In 2005, World Bank and the World Wide Fund announced a five year program to reduce deforestation by 10 percent a year and to increase protected areas by 25 million hectares and improve management on 75 million hectares . The program involved setting up more forest-protected areas such as national parks, more effective management of already protected areas and improved management of forest that were not protected. A WWF official told AP: “The overall goal...is to achieve a 10 percent annual net reduction of the global deforestation rate by 2010 and then gradually turn the deforestation rate into a stabilization and an increase of forest area.”
In the late 2000s, the World Bank raised $250 million to fund pilot programs and support projects that encourage governments and companies in the developed world to pay for preserving trees in exchange for carbon credits that gives them the right to produce carbon dioxide.
Land Conservation and Protected Forests
The Nature Conservancy is a land trust that purchases land to save the flora and fauna that live on it. Biologists estimate only 5 percent of the world’s biological diversity can be secured on formally designated protected areas such as national parks. The Nature Conservancy has been around for more than 50 years. It is involved in many places around the world and employs a strategy to purchase land with critically endangered species often adjacent to protected land. It also works with individuals and companies that own land with endangered species to get them to practice responsible conservation such as sustainable forestry and protection of water catchments.
All but a fraction of the world’s tropical rainforests are unprotected according to a 2006 report by the Yokohama-based International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) that covered 814 million hectares — two thirds of the world’s tropical forest — in 33 countries. All of the forests studied had been designated by the governments and landowners overseeing them for “sustainable management” — meaning they are supposed to be protected as conservation areas, only allowing timber harvesting and other economic activities if they don’t destroy the forest — but in reality only 5 percent had been managed in a sustainable way in the previous year.
In Asia and the Pacific 168 million hectares had been designated for sustainable management but only 19.5 million hectares were protected. In Latin American and the Caribbean 536 million hectares had been designated for sustainable management but only 10.8 million hectares were protected. In Africa 110 million hectares had been designated for sustainable management but only 6 million hectares were protected.
The ITTO study said, “Some countries have already lost a significant part of their natural forest heritage and now have relatively little forest and large areas of degraded , unstable and unproductive land.” On the positive size the amount of land that is being managed is significantly larger than before (only 1 million hectares was protected in 1988) . Alistair Sarre, one of the editors of the report told AP, “Given the amount of bad press that tropical forests get, this is a major improvement...and it does give us some hope that sustainable forest management is a viable land-use option and will continue to expand.”
Solutions to the Deforestation Problem?
The future of the rainforests, conservationists say, is in the hands of the rural farmers. Conservationists try to teach people that maintain the rainforest is in their own interest, and that they should only take what the forest has to give. Environmentalists that get drunk with the locals and dress up in silly costumes with them often have a better success rate than those who indoctrinate them. But to really make a dent in th problem many say something has to be done about the poverty that drives many to become slash and burn farmers to begin with. Summing up the real rainforest problem rather succinctly a Columbian ecologist said: "Remember the worst enemy of nature is poverty.∩"
There is an effort to bring more forested land under protection by establishing more parks, reserves and other protected areas. Ideally parks should be surrounded by several buffer zones, with logging, farming and villages allowed only in the zones that are furthest out. Due to economic and human demands it is unlikely that more than 10 percent of tropical forests can be fully protected. An important strategy in persevering tracts of forests in developed areas is creating corridors that allow animals to migrate between large forested areas another without having to enter cleared areas. Species of birds have been found 100-hectare plots with corridors that weren't found in 100-hectare plots without corridors.
Using soil analysis, modern fertilizers and crop rotation it is possible to make rainforest land much more productive than typical slash and burn agriculture. In some places rice, corn, soybeans, and peanuts have been successfully raised over long periods of time. In other places, Asian water buffalos are being introduced. They produce meat more efficiently in the humid tropics than cattle and thrive in swamps and land unsuitable for farming.☻ ∩
Ecotourim is being promoted as a way for local people to earn money from keeping the rainforests intact. But ecotourism creates problems too. Guides eager to please their clients disturb animals to appear in front of clicking camera. Some have labeled "eco tourism" tours as "eco-terrorism."☻
Analysts at the WWF say that the existing forest could provide all the worlds’ wood and pulps needs if they were properly managed in accordance with environmentally sound practices.
Social Changes Aid Rain Forests
Dr. Wright — an internationally respected scientist — said he knew he was stirring up controversy when he suggested to a conference of tropical biologists that rain forests might not be so bad off. Having lived in Panama for 25 years, he is convinced that scientific assessments of the rain forests’ future were not taking into account the effects of population and migration trends that are obvious on the ground. [Source: Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times, January 29, 2009]
In Latin America and Asia, birthrates have dropped drastically; most people have two or three children. New jobs tied to global industry, as well as improved transportation, are luring a rural population to fast-growing cities. Better farming techniques and access to seed and fertilizer mean that marginal lands are no longer farmed because it takes fewer farmers to feed a growing population.
Gumercinto Vásquez, a stooped casual laborer who was weeding a field in Chilibre in the blistering sun, said it had become hard for him to find work because so many farms had been abandoned. “Very few people around here are farming these days,” he said.
The fate of secondary forests lies not just in biology. A global recession could erase jobs in cities, driving residents back to the land.”Those are questions for economists and politicians, not us,” Dr. Wright said.
Rainforest and Environmental Groups
Greenpeace are calling on supermarkets in the UK and elsewhere to drop suppliers who are involved in deforestation from their meat and dairy supply chains suppliers.
Rather than categorically condemning all forms of logging, mining, road building and agriculture in the rainforest, some environmentalist are pushing environmentally-friendly versions of logging, mining, road building and agriculture.The WWF is encourage villages to start nurseries that provide firewood and poles for construction. Nature Conservancy buy land and logging rights. It is also involved debt for nature swaps — where debtor nations either give land to conservation organizations or promise to protect it in exchange for money to pay off their debts. Ikea has sponsored studies into rates of deforestation.
There is a lot hypocrisy. "Again and again I heard the same story," Jere Van Dyk wrote in National Geographic, "American demanded that people stop cutting the rainforest. Americans demanding timber. Americans demanded that people stop growing coca. American demanding cocaine.
Fighting Deforestation in the Amazon
John Collins Rudolf wrote in the New York Times, “In Brazil in particular, an overhaul of logging laws and a new zeal in enforcement have led to a significant drop not only in illegal logging but also in overall deforestation rates in the Amazon, according to satellite data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. [Source: John Collins Rudolf, New York Times]
Bob Walker, a professor of geography at Michigan State University and an expert on deforestation in the Amazon, witnessed the crackdown on illegal logging during a recent trip into an area of once-rampant deforestation — Brazil’s so-called soy highway, where large swaths of forest have been transformed into soybean fields in recent decades. “You had tens of thousands of loggers who were out of work — people were not happy,” Mr. Walker said in an interview. “A lot of the sawmills went broke. I was amazed to see it.”
John Carter, a rancher who settled in the Amazon in the 1990s started a landowners’ environmental group, called Aliança da Terra, whose members agree to have their properties surveyed for good environmental practices and their forests tracked by satellite by scientists at the Amazon Institute for Environmental Research (IPAM), ensuring that they are not cultivating newly cleared land. Mr. Carter is currently negotiating with companies like McDonalds to purchase only from farms that have been certified.
Chico Mendes and His Efforts to Save the Rainforest
Chico MendesFrancisco Alves Mendes, better known as Chico, was a seringueiro who organized rubber tappers in the state of Acre to fight their subservience to large land owners, confront logging crews and cattle ranchers clearing the forest and save the rain forests with non-violent protests in which large groups of tappers showed up where men were clearing the forests, persuading them to stop.
Known internationally for his conservation efforts, Chico Mendez testified before the United States Congress and lobbied the World Bank to get them to reassess their development policies in the Amazon. He flew abroad to confront lenders paying for roads that brought setters and development to the Amazon and tried to establish reserves for rubber tappers and set up schools and hospitals in settlements where they lived.
According to the New York Times: Mendes was an early advocate of the idea that people who live in the forest could create livelihoods from sustainable forest resources, rather than the one-time economic benefit of cutting down trees. Carbon financing, the compensation of forest dwellers for pursuing sustainable industries, would provide an added incentive, which is vital given the uncertain markets for natural rubber and other non-timber forest products. “The notion that we in the north will help pay for that climate service is an important development and represents the mainstreaming of the concept that Chico Mendes and those like him were pioneers in creating,” said Richard H. Moss, the head of climate change programs at the World Wildlife Fund in Washington. [Source: Alexei Barrionuevo, New York Times, December 21, 2008]
Killing of Chico Mendes and Its Impact
On December 22, 1988 Chico Mendes, was shot down as he left his house in the town of Rio Branco in Acre State by ranchers who opposed to his efforts to save the Amazon rain forest. Kim Heacox wrote in The Guardian:“Shortly before his 44th birthday in December 1988, Mendes predicted he would not live until Christmas. “At first,” he said, “I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.” [Source: Kim Heacox, The Guardian, October 7, 2021]
Mendes had received death threats for years. The threats escalated when an aggressive rancher laid claim to a nearby forest reserve, where he intended to burn and level trees to create pasture for cattle. The rancher hired gunmen to prowl around Mendes’s neighborhood. Mendes publicly opposed the rancher, and continued to advocate for the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin, saying Brazil must save the most biodiverse forest in the world. Destroy it, he said, and we, the human race, will end up destroying ourselves. It stunned the world.
The killings of Mendes and Sister Dorothy Stang, a 73-year-old Catholic nun who was gunned down in 2005 for speaking out against logging in the Amazon, ratcheted up international pressure on Brazil to find ways to limit forest clearing without sacrificing development. At Mendes funeral the sandals and shirt he was wearing was place on an altar and the words "Chico Vive" was written out in Brazil nuts. Three ranchers were arrested for the murder, rubber tappers burned down the huts of loggers to protest the cutting of the rain forest and nine movie companies made offers for the rights to Mendes's life. [Source: Michael Parfit, Smithsonian magazine, November 1989]
Impact of Chico Mendes's Murder
After his death, Mendes became a martyr for the save the rainforest movement and the idea that the value of a standing forest could be more than the value of a forest burned and logged in the name of development. His efforts to stop logging in an area planned for a forest reserve had led to his death. Since his killing more than 20 reserves have been created, protecting more than eight million acres. In 2008, Brazil took a big step forward towards realizing Mendes’s vision. The government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva introduced ambitious targets for reducing deforestation and carbon dioxide emissions. At that time 75 percent of Brazil’s carbon dioxide emissions come from deforestation. Brazil’s plan was sharply cut CO2 emissions, reducing them by some 4.8 billion tons by 2018. During the 2000s, deforestation in the Amazon eased somewhat.
Kim Heacox wrote in The Guardian:“The National Council of Rubber Tappers, reeling from the assassination, made a plea that the Amazon be preserved “for the whole Brazilian nation as part of its identity and self-esteem”. The council added: “This Alliance of the Peoples of the Forest — bringing together Indians, rubber tappers, and riverbank communities — embraces all efforts to protect and preserve this immense but fragile life-system that involves our forests, rivers, lakes and springs, the source of our wealth and the basis of our cultures and traditions.” [Source: Kim Heacox, The Guardian, October 7, 2021]
“Since Mendes’s murder, nearly 1 million square kilometers of the Amazon, an area roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined, have been destroyed, primarily in Brazil, but also in Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guyana. That equates to an average of some 200,000 acres every day, or 40 football fields per minute. In Brazil alone.
Cattle Industry Agrees to Help Fight Deforestation
Alexei Barrionuevo wrote in the New York Times, “Environmental groups hailed a decision by four of the world’s largest meat producers to ban the purchase of cattle from newly deforested areas of Brazil’s Amazon rain forest.At a conference on Monday in São Paulo organized by Greenpeace, the four cattle companies — Bertin, JBS-Friboi, Marfrig and Minerva — agreed to support Greenpeace’s call for an end to the deforestation. [Source: Alexei Barrionuevo, New York Times, October 6, 2009]
But the Brazilian government, while pushing ambitious goals to slow deforestation in the Amazon, is also a major financer and shareholder in global beef and leather processors that profit from cattle raised in areas of the Amazon that have been destroyed, often illegally, according to Greenpeace.
Illegal logging of rosewood_ The four cattle producers agreed to monitor their supply chains and set clear targets for the registration of farms that supply cattle, both directly and indirectly. They also said they would devise measures to end the purchase of cattle from indigenous and protected areas, and from farms that use slave labor.
Environmental groups called the decision a major step forward for climate protection. “This agreement shows that in today’s world someone that wants to be a global player cannot be associated with deforestation and with slave labor,” said Marcelo Furtado, executive director of Greenpeace in Brazil. Brazil has the world’s largest cattle herd and is the world’s largest beef exporter, but it is also the fourth largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.
Daniel Nepstad, a scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, has mapped out large areas of the Amazon “pixel by pixel” to determine the land value if it was converted to raise cattle or grow soy, to help determine how much landowners should be paid to conserve forest. Most experts feel that landowners will accept lower prices as they realize the benefits of saving forest, like conserving water and burnishing their image with buyers.
Combating Illegal Logging
According to a 2010 European Union report on the timber trade in Cameroon, to combat illegal logging: 1)increased transparency and accountability procedures are needed in the timber and wood businesses to prevent the kind of corruption and money laundering that are key to making the illegal logging industry thrive; 2) governments should pass laws that require businesses to only purchase wood that comes from a verifiable sources; and 3) countries need to promote their own forestry sectors to reduce their reliance on imports.
In some places, logs can only be exported if they have an CITES export permit. CITES stands for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wold Fauna and Flora. As it stands now the export permits are easily fudged.
The European Union is exerting pressure by developing bilateral agreements with timber-producing countries that require third-party oversight of the logging process.In October 2005, the European Union announced a plan to cut down on illegal logging by establishing a legally binding licensing schemes to prevent import of illegal timber products that requires timber arriving in the European Union to have proof that it was legally cut. The European Union is hammering out a treaty for timber producing countries to put in place a more verifiable certification system and take other steps such as tightening customs procedures and setting up a system that tracks logs from felling to selling.
In 2008 in the United States, an amendment to the Lacey Act, a federal conservation law, made it a crime to import illegally harvested timber into the United States — the first such international law to do so. “Until then, there was nothing to prevent illegally sourced timber from being imported and consumed anywhere in the world,” said Sam Lawson, a researcher with Chatham House and one of the authors of the illegal logging report. “It was open season.”
In Brazil, satellite systems have been beefed up to closely track deforestation and dispatch police to places where illegal logging is taking place.In December 2009, Japan, the United States and the European Union made a $12 million, three-year agreement with the Yokohama-based International Tropical Timber Organization to support measures by the governments of developing countries and NGOs to combat illegal logging and support environmentally-friendly forest management as part of the broader aim of tackling global warming. The effort will include cracking down on shipments carrying illegally logged timber and unraveling the networks in which such timber is shipped to importing countries.
The decline in illegal logging and total deforestation is also being witnessed in major timber-producing countries like Indonesia, Cameroon, Malaysia and Ghana, according to a new report by Chatham House, a British think tank. John Collins Rudolf wrote in the New York Times: “International pressure on nations like Cameroon, where an independent regulator financed by a coalition of donor countries now oversees the timber trade, have resulted in tighter controls over logging in general and reductions in overall deforestation and clear-cutting. Regulatory action by the United States and the European Union are helping to move producer nations toward sustainable forestry practices. [Source: John Collins Rudolf, New York Times]
Gibson Guitar Target of U.S. Illegal Logging Law
Concealing illegal rosewood In 2009, the U.S. Congress expanded the United States’ oldest federal wildlife law to cover illegal logging. Juliet Eilperin wrote in the Washington Post,” But then federal investigators picked Gibson Guitar as the first target of the new provision, confiscating guitars and pallets of ebony two years ago that allegedly came from wood illegally logged in Madagascar. In August they seized more than 100,000 fingerboards allegedly made from imported Indian rosewood, along with electronic files.[Source: Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post November 13, 2011]
Gibson Guitar’s chief executive , Henry Juszkiewicz, is striking back with efforts to amend the law, to provide more certainty not just for instrument manufacturers and dealers but also for musicians, who theoretically could run afoul of it by possessing instruments containing illegal wood. That’s put him in the spotlight of the conservative campaign against what some view as federal regulatory overreach, and he’s gained an eclectic band of allies — including tea party adherents and the Democrat who represents the home of country music.
“I’m being pulled into this involvement through the Justice Department action,” Juszkiewicz said. “I’m sort of in the frying pan and my thought process is, that’s wrong. . . . Let me look at what is the problem, and let me fix it.” Juszkiewicz’s campaign — which includes hiring the lobbying firm Crowell & Moring on retainer for more than $10,000 a month — has begun to yield results. In mid-October, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) introduced a bill that would protect anyone who unknowingly possesses wood that violates the Lacey Act from prosecution; exempt any wood products owned before May 22, 2008, from the law; and compel the federal government to publish an Internet database of illegal wood sources to inform the public.
Country music star Vince Gill and other musicians, such as Steve Bryant, who wrote the song “Keep Your Hands Off Our Wood,” argue that they could be held liable for old instruments without proper documentation.
Gibson and other major guitar manufacturers conducted a fact-finding mission in Madagascar in 2008. Taylor Guitars and Martin Guitars stopped obtaining wood from Madagascar, but according to an e-mail that has surfaced in the federal probe, a Gibson employee wrote that a local supplier could still obtain ebony from “the gray market.”
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Text Sources: “The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior” by David Attenborough (Princeton University Press, 1997); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated April 2022