Ecosystem services and the production of tropical timber
When comparing the costs and benefits of conventional and sustainable production of tropical timber the inclusion of ecosystem services – such as carbon capture and natural products – can have a vital impact on the outcome.
The study compared the costs and benefits of conventional and sustainable timber production.
This study for the first time quantified forest ecosystem services other than just logging. This provided an estimate of the total return from sustainability. This concerned the revenue earned from natural wild products, such as nuts, cane, game and fish, for example, and ecosystem services such as water supply, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.
The study was based on information on timber production in South America and South East Asia. These are major production areas for the wood imported in to the Netherlands.
Production methods for tropical timber
Selective logging is the most common timber harvesting method used in tropical forests. Only the most valuable tree species are felled. There is often considerable damage to the remaining forest, however.
Sustainable topical forest management uses an improved harvesting method which limits the damage to the remaining forest. The first harvesting cycle therefore produces less timber than with conventional logging, but the future revenue can be higher because the forest recovers better.
Some tropical species can also be cultivated in plantations. The timber production then requires a smaller acreage and the use of natural forest is avoided.
> Benefits of damage-limiting harvesting methods are long term
A remarkable result for South America is that the nett economic return (in monetary terms) using the damage-limitation method of timber harvesting is higher than when conventional harvesting techniques are used. Therefore, even without the income from other forestry services this would appear to be preferable from a commercial point of view. Damage-limiting harvesting does require a long-term approach by the logging companies, because the costs far precede the benefits.
The ecology and species composition of the forests in South East Asia are different and the results of comparing conventional and sustainable harvesting are also quite different. There the damage-limiting timber harvesting only becomes commercially attractive when the value of other forest services are included in the operational model. Ecosystem services therefore do make a difference here when the pros and cons of conventional and sustainable tropical timber production are balanced against one another. This value lies largely in increased carbon capture. This service could offer an additional source of income provided that there are international markets and funds for CO2.
> Benefits of plantations are seen mainly at regional level
An important aspect of plantations is that the intensive production creates opportunities for a larger area of natural forest where there is little or no logging anymore. This larger natural forest also provides a variety of benefits, the greatest of which will be greater carbon capture. But because the logging companies themselves have no direct gain from this, it is by no means certain whether they will do this and safeguard the benefits for the future. This means that additional regional spatial planning policy would be required. This could be financed by a global carbon market. Services from natural forests that are mostly of local relevance, such as food and non-timber forest products, could perhaps also benefit as a result.
Study conducted by
Alterra Wageningen UR research institute