Disturb forests for their own good


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Most recipes for managing tropical forests better are designed to reduce the impacts of logging on forests. They encourage loggers to only go into a forest once every thirty or forty years, take only a few large trees, avoid damaging the surrounding trees, and keep down the number of logging roads. That way the logged forest will resemble the original forest as closely as possible.

’Silvicultural Intensification for Tropical Forest Conservation’ by Todd Fredericksen and Francis Putz, published recently in Biodiversity and Conservation, partially questions that view. They point out that many major commercial tropical timber species require large openings and lots of light to regenerate; so large disturbances are actually good for them. These include mahogany, tropical cedar, and azobe. Under some conditions, commercial tree species actually regenerate better on former logging roads and skid trails than in other areas. Logging only the largest and best-shaped trees can also favor poorer quality trees taking their place.

The authors also question whether less intensive logging always helps conserve biodiversity. Some animal species, such as a number of birds that eat insects, seem to react poorly to logging of any intensity. But many other animals flourish in logged-over areas, including various types of birds, tapirs, and monkeys that interest conservationists.

Often logging itself does less damage to forests than the hunting, wildfires, and agricultural activities it brings with it. That being the case it might well make sense to manage smaller areas more intensively and leave other forests untouched, rather than to harvest less timber per hectare from much larger areas.

Fredericksen and Putz are not arguing that more intensive logging is always better or that we don’t need reduced impact-logging techniques. But forest managers should consider the biology of the specific species one wants to produce, and in particular what will help those species regenerate. Recipe books are ok for cooks. But good forest management requires a more flexible approach that is adapted to the goals for which the forest is being managed.

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Further reading

To request a free reprint or electronic copy of this paper or to send comments or queries to the authors you can write Todd Fredericksen at mailto:tfredericksen@ferrum.edu or Francis Putz at mailto:fep@botany.ufl.edu