Managed forestry offers hope of saving Amazon

MONTE DOURADO, Brazil (Reuters) - Buzzing chain saws and heavy machinery hauling logs through the Amazon jungle look at first like reckless destruction. But a forestry project on the Jari River in northern Brazil is being hailed as a model for preserving the world’s largest rain forest.

Para state policemen and government environmental inspectors patrol fields of former virgin Amazon rain forest destroyed by loggers, in Tailandia, 180 km (112 miles) south of Belem at the mouth of the Amazon River, February 15, 2008. REUTERS/Paulo Santos

Evidence in January that the pace of Amazon deforestation has increased after falling for nearly three years renewed a fierce public debate over saving the forest. It also opened a rift in President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government.

Loggers illegally clear vast swathes of forest for timber and farmland every year, wreaking environmental havoc while creating little long-term income.

But a handful of forest management projects have emerged as conservation models, extracting resources with little impact.

“Selling certified timber harvested in a sustainable way is the only solution for the Amazon,” said Augusto Praxedes Neto, a manager at Brazilian pulp and paper company Grupo ORSA.

For five years ORSA has managed the world’s largest private tropical forest, located on either side of the Jari River in the northeastern Amazon region.

It harvests only 30 cubic meters (12,713 board feet) of timber per hectare (2.47 acres) every 30 years, just under the natural regeneration rate. Trees are felled and transported so as to cause minimal impact on the forest and are recorded in a computerized inventory.

“I can tell a customer in Europe which tree his table is made of,” said operations manager Euclides Reckziegel as blue and yellow macaws flew over a solid forest canopy that echoed with the growls of howler monkeys.

“Illegal loggers kill 30 trees to get one. These projects protect far more trees than they extract,” said Ana Yang of the Stewardship Forestry Council (FSC) in Brazil.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the international industry watchdog, certifies and inspects the Jari project every six months. Harvesting began in 2003.

Much of Para state surrounding the ORSA property is troubled by the kind of land disputes that cause death and destruction throughout the Amazon. In one such dispute in February 2005, Dorothy Stang, a U.S. nun and human rights activist, was killed by gunmen hired by ranchers.

Other conservation areas such as national parks or Indian reserves often lack resources for protection against illegal loggers and generate little income for local populations.

ORSA’s security guards and forest dwellers, who receive company health care, help prevent intrusions, Neto said.

Communities still lack proper education and basic sanitation facilities but many residents say they are better off because of the project, which created 400 jobs.

“It’s not a huge income but it makes a difference,” said Zeneide Costa Pinto, aged 47, one of 14 women who make jewelry, baskets and cookies from rain forest products.


Jari’s 1.7-million-hectare (4.2-million-acre) property is just over half the size of Belgium. Roughly 80 percent of it is standing forest and one-third is managed and FSC certified.

“If the government were to put the same effort into sustainable forest management that it put into developing agriculture in the 1970s and 1980s we could preserve much of the Amazon,” said Judson Ferreira, a senior researcher with government farm research institute Embrapa.

The government is taking a more cautious approach. In March it will select three companies to manage just 96,000 hectares (237,200 acres) of forest, the first such tender of federal land.

“Forestry management is a great alternative and ORSA is a good example of it but we want to take things slowly,” Tasso Rezende, head of Brazil’s forestry service, told Reuters.

“We need several projects doing well over a long period -- private ownership in the Amazon is controversial.”

For forestry management to take off, authorities need to tackle uncertainty over land ownership, crack down on illegal deforestation, and cut red tape, Yang said.

“It’s still easier to get a license to cut trees than to plant or manage them,” she said.

Editing by Eric Walsh