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Study on Asian Logging Bans Produces Unexpected Conclusions - 2001-11-17

In Asia, the rate of deforestation has reached alarming proportions and is reportedly nearly four times the global rate. As a result, many governments have imposed a ban on logging. But an unprecedented study on the effects of logging bans has produced some intriguing conclusions.

The Food and Agriculture Organization says that outlawing logging can be an important tool in halting the degradation of Asia's forests. But it says logging bans seldom correct the underlying causes of deforestation. Moreover, the report says logging bans harm forests and local communities.

The report, which took more than two years to compile, is reportedly the first comparative study of restrictions on logging in the Asia-Pacific region. It examines bans that began more than a decade ago in six countries: China, New Zealand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka. Thailand and Vietnam.

The senior forestry officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization's Southeast Asia office, Patrick Durst, says it is widely believed that logging is a major cause of deforestation, but in fact that is not true. "In a strict sense, logging is not a major cause of de-forestation directly," he says But what it does is serve to open up the forest, puts roads into the forest, and clears much of the big timber and big trees off the forest and it makes it quite easy for other settlers to come in and finish the job."

Mr. Durst says the primary cause of deforestation is clearing land for farming, and this is a result of the region's high population growth. But Mr. Durst says logging bans usually have been imposed as a quick response to natural calamities, such as the mudslides and floods that kill thousands of people and are often blamed on deforestation. "When these things happen, the quite simplistic assessment is often to blame logging," he says. "And politicians of course need to be seen to be doing something, so a very quick action that can be taken and has been taken it to take action against logging."

Mr. Durst says logging bans often merely move the deforestation problem to neighboring countries that are less prepared to address it. He says in addition, bans can wreak havoc on communities that depend on the industry, and can fuel corruption and illegal logging.

Mr. Durst says one approach is a partial ban. But he says these should have a time limit. He says the most successful logging bans have been well prepared in advance, when governments have developed a consensus among businessmen and local populations on the need for a ban.

Militant environmentalists, who believe all logging should be stopped, have tended to reject the report. But the reaction among other environmentalists has been more moderate.

The forestry coordinator for the World Wildlife Fund in Asia, Rod Taylor, says a logging ban is sometimes a simplistic response to a very complex problem. But he thinks bans still have a role. "In some of the areas of Asia we have almost a frontier situation where the loggers have got there way ahead of the law," he says. "And in those sort of circumstances we would think that something like a logging ban can be useful to sort of put a hold on things until the state can catch up with the situation."

Mr. Taylor says that realistically logging can not be stopped entirely because people need wood. But it is possible to separate what he calls terrible logging from not-so-terrible logging.

He says one way is to decide which forest is most vital to save. "That can be a forest that has a conservation value: a, because it's important to people in the area; b, because it's protecting a watershed; or thirdly because it's looking after biodiversity, you know, endangered species and so on," he says.

Mr. Taylor says the World Wildlife Fund promotes independent certification of logging programs. This separates good logging from bad logging and informs consumers and investors in the industry whether a given program is worthwhile.

Mr. Taylor says his organization pressures those outside government who have a stake in the forests and should bear some responsibility for their maintenance, such as companies that invest in logging and processing mills.

Finally, he says his group is also targeting consumers. "All this wood that's being chopped and paper that's being produced is going to consumers in relatively well-developed countries," he says. "And in a way they push their problems on these frontier countries."

Mr. Taylor says his group is trying to pressure consumers to ask questions about the environmental and social effects of logging and the processing that produce the goods they buy.