Econ-atrocity: Ancient Forests at Risk

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Ancient Forests at Risk
by Sirisha Naidu, CPE Staff Economist

Lumber consumption in the United States is increasingly threatening ancient
forests. A recent report by California's Department of Forestry and Fire
Protection highlights this problem. It discusses Californian lumber
consumption and conservation practices, and states that when California
reduced the amount of wood logged within its forests, the state's demand
for wood started to be met by imports from other states, Canada and Europe.
The report shows particular concern over the impact of consumption in
California on the ancient forests in Canada, since 90% of commercial
logging in that country takes the form of clear cutting. According to Dr.
C. Pielou, a scientist from British Columbia, "Clearcutting causes two
kinds of fundamental damage, one long lasting, the other permanent. The
long lasting damage is to the soil, the permanent damage is to the
biological diversity."

Ancient or old growth forests refer to forests that are relatively
undisturbed by human activity. While they vary significantly in age and
structure, old growth forests have not generally been exposed to
significant industrial activity. They naturally regenerate and tend to be
dominated by indigenous tree species with multiple canopy layers. Ancient
forests perform many important social and ecological functions such as
climate regulation, carbon sequestration, water regulation, and soil
creation; they are a source of medicinal plants and other valuable
compounds, are biodiversity pools, and provide a habitat for dependent
species. They also are of cultural and spiritual significance to many

Despite the fact that old growth forests provide essential life support to
humanity, they are at risk. According to the World Resources Institute,
only 20% of all original ancient forests are large enough to maintain their
biodiversity, 39% of which are endangered by human activities, especially
industrial logging. In 2010 wood consumption is estimated to rise 56% over
1993 levels. In the past 30 years, 13% of the Amazonian forests have been
logged. In British Columbia, 71 million cubic meters are logged each year.

Apart from the impact of logging and other industrial activities on the
forest ecosystem, the fallout on communities dependent on these forests can
be large. An estimated 200 million people across the globe depend on
forests for their livelihoods. Many of them belong to indigenous
communities that have relied on forests for their subsistence needs for
millennia. Contrary to benefiting from the increase in demand for wood and
wood products, communities are likely to face greater insecurity when
political elites are tempted to appropriate their resources. This could
turn these communities into what has been termed 'ecological refugees' who
have little or no access to natural resources or the political process.

While local sustainable forest management practices can play an important
role in addressing this problem at the global level, it is equally
important to address the role of consumption. As the case of California
reveals, the adoption of locally sustainable harvesting cannot by itself
establish a balance between consumption and conservation policies.
Naturally, this is equally true outside of California. Even if there is a
higher propensity to support conservation throughout the US and
industrialized societies, little is being done about consumption.

The not-in-my-backyard approach has resulted in the country being
considered a threat to the forests of the world. Hence organizations such
as the Forest Stewardship Council endorse and certify forests that are
managed in an "ecologically sound, socially responsible and economically
viable manner" with the objective to encourage responsible consumption. So
the next time you use wood and wood products, consider their source and how
you affect these ancient forests and their dependent communities; it's time
to think about the global consequences of lumber consumption.

Gadgil M., Guha R. 1995. Ecology and Equity: The Use and Abuse of Nature in
Contemporary India. - London: Routledge.

Knudson, T. "State of Denial: World's other forests feed state's appetite
for timber". Sacramento Bee, Sunday, October 5, 2003.
The Forest Stewardship Council defines forest stewardship in a set of
global Principles and Criteria. These Principles and Criteria, which apply
to all forests worldwide, ensure that FSC-endorsed forests are managed in
an ecologically sound, socially responsible and economically viable manner.

© 2003 Center for Popular Economics

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