Michael Walch

Loggers on the move

Posted in Rates of Exchange: Amazon Studio by michaelwalch on 21 February, 2010

Logging in the Brazilian Amazon is intrinsic to the process of deforestation.  The location of logging centers or ‘poles’ (sawmills) define a sort of frontier of deforestation.  Loggers rarely own the land from which they extract timber and other products.  Primarily they are hired to clear land as a first step (and capital-gathering) in the process of clearing and turning that land over to agriculture or cattle-grazing.

Here is a map of that phenomenon, from Schneider, R.R. et al. Sustainable Amazon: limitations and opportunities for rural development. World Bank Technical Paper no. 515 (Environment Series), Washington, DC, 2002.

Basically the sawmills use rented, cheap equipment and don’t own the land they are logging, which sets up a perfect environment for disregard of the protection of the natural resources of the land, and inefficient use of the resources extracted from the forest.  The typical lifespan of a sawmill facility is 7 to 10 years.  It’s no coincidence that this map looks like an advancing army – it represents the front line of deforestation (in the Amazon, the ‘arc of deforestation’).  What if we could diffuse these facilities across a larger area, so that they can be harvested less intensely per unit area?  How can we keep loggers in place?  Keeping them in place would require that they maintain the forests.  Emancipating the loggers from the agricultural and cattle interests could allow them to adopt more sustainable methods of logging.

There is already a very sophisticated monitoring system in place in the Amazon – called SISFLOR.  It combines information from IBAMA, including land title and conservation/extraction activity permits with satellite monitoring of deforestation and fires, and on-the-ground observations tracked with GPS devices, and overlays everything through GIS software.  This takes place at 23 monitoring stations, concentrated around the logging poles (the arc of deforestation) – each one has a monitoring radius of about 200km.

Informed by the SISFLOR system, IBAMA has an approval stamp for legal lumber – for initial origin, transport, and export or consumer-ready.  That stamp is valuable!  All of the forestry certification processes have come from consumer demand and willingness to pay premiums for sustainably harvested forest products – this is one way to not only ensure that consumers are getting what they pay for, but also to transmit that revenue to loggers (many who are small companies or families) who are working within Sustainable Forest Management Plans (PFSM).

This approach is a fantastic precedent to the system I’m looking to develop.  The choice of site will be informed by where the timber is and the roads on which it is transported; it will need to work like a series of check points, border crossings, or way stations.  More to come.

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