Three men standing around tree
Checking the health of trees in forest concessions, Loreto, Peru. | Credit: Liliana Lizárraga for USDA Forest Service

Reducing Tropical Forest Degradation while Improving Carbon Outcomes

By Claudia Romero

Timber mining–unsustainable and destructive logging–doesn’t just contribute to forest degradation but also to climate change. Carbon emissions from tropical forest degradation exceed those from deforestation. A new USAID-funded report, Opportunities to Reduce Tropical Forest Degradation and Mitigate Climate Change focuses on ways to promote the transition from timber mining to forest management to address these impacts.

The report explores opportunities to avoid forest degradation caused by logging and enhance carbon removals in already-degraded forests. However, before these opportunities can be pursued, the authors point out two fundamental factors. First, selective logging at the intensities and cutting cycle durations allowed in the tropics emits substantial quantities of carbon and does not sustain timber yields, almost without exception. Next, the second and third harvests yield substantially less timber of lower quality and generate much lower profits than first harvests, while also further degrading the forest and reducing rates of carbon stock recovery (i.e., carbon removal).

With these factors in mind, the report proposes five well-known improved forest management practices that can cost-effectively sustain timber yields while mitigating climate change, benefiting biodiversity, and providing other co-benefits. For each of these recommended practices, the report clarifies the tradeoffs, highlights the synergies, and outlines pathways to their implementation, with detailed case studies from Loreto, Peru, and Mato Grosso, Brazil of both project and jurisdictional approaches.

  1. Reduced-impact logging. Use of all reduced-impact logging techniques by trained, supervised, and appropriately compensated workers can demonstrably halve carbon emissions. Forest worker professionalization costs money, but trained workers cause less damage and suffer fewer injuries. Their improved well-being translates into benefits for their families and communities.
  2. Utilization of waste wood. Increased utilization of the wood from felled trees is feasible but also requires worker training and incentives as well as modifications of timber processing protocols and supporting policies.
  3. Reduced harvesting frequency and lower logging intensity. Policies that set the minimum sizes of trees that can be harvested and the minimum time needed between harvests need to be adjusted to reflect the data now available on rates of post-harvest forest recovery of commercial timber volumes. Sustaining timber yields is good for forests and essential for the long-term viability of forest industries.
  4. Silvicultural treatments for increased carbon uptake. To secure timber for the next harvest, future crop trees (FCTs), i.e., trees of commercial species smaller than the minimum cutting diameter, need to be protected during harvests and released from competition. Liberating FCTs from encumbering lianas (woody vines), for example, can double timber volume increments and rates of carbon removal at a very low cost. 
  5. Accessible tree planting. In accessible areas where the forest was cleared, such as in road corridors, management intensification through enrichment planting is sometimes warranted but always expensive. Accessibility to these areas is key, because planted seedlings need to be tended for 3-5 years.

According to the report, there are existing enabling policy environments in the tropics to support changes in forest management practices, as detailed in the case studies from Peru and Brazil. It is time to start transitioning from forest exploitation to forest management that benefits workers, biodiversity, the climate, economies, and forest industries.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Mitigation
Topics
Adaptation, Carbon, Emissions, Deforestation and Commodity Production, Forest/Forestry, Mitigation, Nature-based Solutions, Natural Resource Management

Claudia Romero

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