How to Save the Rainforest

By Rhett A. Butler
April 1, 2019

How to save the Rainforest

Today tropical rainforests are disappearing from the face of the globe. Despite growing international concern, rainforests continue to be destroyed at a pace exceeding 80,000 acres (32,000 hectares) per day. Tropical cover now stands at 2 billion hectares (7.7 million sq miles), an area about the size of the United States plus China and representing around 13 percent of the world's land surface. Much of this remaining area has been impacted by human activities and no longer retains its full original biodiversity.

Deforestation of tropical rainforests has a global impact through species extinction, the loss of important ecosystem services and renewable resources, and the reduction of carbon sinks. However, this destruction can be slowed, stopped, and in some cases even reversed. Most people agree that the problem must be remedied, but the means are not as simple as fortifying fences around the remaining rainforests or banning the timber trade. Economic, political, and social pressures will not allow rainforests to persist if they are completely closed off from use and development.

So, what should be done? The solution must be based on what is feasible, not overly idealistic, and depends on developing a conservation approach built on the principle of sustainable use and development of rainforests. Beyond the responsible development of rainforests, efforts to rehabilitate and restore degraded forest lands along with the establishment of protected areas are key to securing rainforests for the long-term benefits they can provide mankind.

Five Basic Steps to Saving Rainforests

"TREES" is a concept originally devised for an elementary school audience but serves well as set of principles for saving rainforests and, on a broader scale, ecosystems around the world.

  • Teach others about the importance of the environment and how they can help save rainforests.
  • Restore damaged ecosystems by planting trees on land where forests have been cut down.
  • Encourage people to live in a way that doesn't hurt the environment.
  • Establish parks to protect rainforests and wildlife.
  • Support companies that operate in ways that minimize damage to the environment.

Past efforts

Historic approaches to rainforest conservation have failed, as demonstrated by the accelerated rate of deforestation. In many regions, closing off forests as untouchable parks and reserves has neither improved the quality of living or economic opportunities for rural poor nor deterred forest clearing by illegal loggers and developers. Corruption has only worsened the situation.

The problem with this traditional park approach to preserving wildlands in developing countries is that it fails to generate sufficient economic incentives for respecting and maintaining the forest. Rainforests will only continue to survive as functional ecosystems if they can be shown to provide tangible economic benefits. Local people and the government itself must see financial returns to justify the costs of maintaining parks and forgoing revenue from economic activities within the boundaries of the protected area.

Rainbow over the Amazon. (Photo by R. Butler)

Limited resources

Countries with significant rainforest cover are generally not the world's richest. As such, rural people's day-to-day survival is dependent upon natural-resource use. Most local people living in and around forests never have an option to become a doctor, sports star, factory worker, or secretary; they must live off the land that surrounds them, making use of whatever resources they can find. Their poverty costs themselves, their country, and the world through the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services like erosion prevention, flood control, water treatment, and fisheries protection.

Governments in these countries are in the unenviable position of having to balance the well-being of rural poor with the interests of industry, demands from foreign governments, and requirements from the international aid community. In this climate, it can be easier to simply neglect the continued destruction and degradation of environmental assets than to come up with a long-term plan to ensure that economic development is ecologically sustainable. Success in conserving wildlands in these countries will require reconciling the inevitable conflicts between short-term needs of local people and the long-term nature of the benefits that conservation can generate on a sustainable, ongoing basis.

Forces behind rainforest loss

Rainforests are being cut mostly for economic reasons, though there are political and social motivations as well. A significant portion of deforestation is caused by poor farmers simply trying to eke out a living on marginal lands. Beyond conversion for subsistence agriculture, activities like logging, clearing for cattle pasture and commercial agriculture are sizable contributors to deforestation on a global scale. Agricultural fires typically used for land-clearing often spread outside cultivated areas and into degraded rainforest regions.

Addressing deforestation

Addressing deforestation requires taking the very different needs and interests of these groups into account.

    Poor farmers:
    Poor farmers are simply trying to put food on the table for their families. A better approach to addressing the needs of the rural poor may be improving and intensifying currently existing agricultural projects and promoting alternative cultivation techniques—notably permaculture. Permaculture adds a mix of crops to the farmer's palette that both enables the farm to diversify his or her income stream and enhance degraded soils by restoring nutrients. An added benefit of such techniques is that they maintain forest systems, soils, and biological diversity at a far higher level than do conventional agricultural approaches. As long as such fields are adjacent to secondary and old-growth forest, many species will continue to thrive.

    One promising area of research looks at ancient societies that lived in the Amazon rainforest before the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. Apparently these populations were able to enrich the rainforest soil, which is usually quite poor, using charcoal and animal bones. By improving soil quality, large areas of the Amazon that have been deforested could be used to support agriculture. This could help reduce pressure on rainforest areas for agricultural land. Further, the "terra preta" soil could be used to help fight global warming since it sequesters carbon that would otherwise contribute to global warming.

    A second important part of aiding poor farmers is helping them gain formal title to their land. Right now, in places where it is difficult to gain ownership rights to land and where land is relatively open and abundant, there is little incentive to maintain or improve holdings. Once local people have a stake in the land they are farming, they will have an interest in using it efficiently instead of moving on to a new area of forest once soils are prematurely exhausted.

    The creation of credit facilities for poor farmers to both save their earnings and borrow in times of need is also important to improving their quality of life. Micro-credit facilities can provide significant economic benefits to the local economy while bringing dignity to and promoting entrepreneurship among local people.

    Finally, improved access to markets is important in enabling farmers to get their agricultural products. Improved access can be a doubled-edged sword if it means increased road-building, which often spurs further deforestation. Any infrastructure improvements should be carefully planned to minimize the future impact on remaining ecosystems.

    Industrial/commercial developers:
    Thus far it has proved difficult to apply the same permaculture agricultural techniques mentioned above to industrial operations. As currently practiced, large-scale agriculture is typically quite destructive of native ecosystems and does not maintain biodiversity at levels commensurate with adjacent forest areas. Incremental steps like the use of natural pest control and fertilizers can help reduce pollution caused by agricultural operations, while leaving strips of forest as corridors linking sections of forest helps moderate biodiversity losses.

    Sustainable logging, while possible, has met resistance from the timber industry for its lack of efficiency relative to traditional harvesting methods, and it remains controversial among conservationists as to its impact on the environment. Illegal logging and counterfeit labeling are major obstacles facing sustainable forest management for timber, but in time the development of higher yielding timber plantations established on degraded non-forest lands will help alleviate pressures on natural forests.

Restoring and rehabilitating ecosystems

There is no use bemoaning past deforestation of large areas. Today the concern is how to best utilize lands already cleared so they support productive activities, now and for future generations. Without improving the well-being of people living in and around forests, we cannot expect rainforests to persist as fully functional systems and continue to cater to our needs.

In addressing environmental problems in rainforest countries, it is important that decision makers not only be concerned with the transformation of existing natural ecosystems, but also the more rational utilization of already cleared and degraded areas. To lessen future forest loss, we must increase and sustain the productivity of farms, pastures, plantations, and scrub land in addition to restoring species and ecosystems to degraded habitats. By reducing wasteful land-use practices, consolidating gains on existing cleared lands, and improving already developed lands, we can diminish the need to clear additional forest.

Research and experience has shown that the restoration of entire ecosystems is most possible in regions where parts or at least remnants of the original forest still remain and there are few human population pressures. Small clearings surrounded by forest recover quickly, and large sections may recover in time, especially if some assistance in the reforestation process is provided (with native seed dispersers like bats and birds doing some of the heavy lifting). After several years, a once-barren field can again support vegetation in the form of pioneer species and secondary growth. Although the secondary forest will be low in diversity and poorly developed, the forest cover will be adequate for some species to return (assuming they still exist). In addition, the newly forested patch can be used for the sustainable harvest of forest products and low-intensity logging and agriculture.

Funding rainforest conservation efforts

Conservation efforts and sustainable development programs are not going to be cost-free. Even countries that already get considerable aid from foreign donors have trouble effectively making such initiatives work in the long term. Since handouts, which in and of themselves can breed dependency, are inherently unsustainable, funding these initiatives may require more creative sources of income to be truly successful. Here are some other funding strategies for consideration:

  • Payments for ecosystem services—Hope for avoiding the worst outcomes in the tropics increasingly rests on the belief that people will soon pay for the services provided by healthy rainforests. These services—which include biodiversity maintenance, rainfall generation, carbon sequestration, and soil stabilization, among others—have traditionally been undervalued by markets, but there are signs that the situation is changing. In recent years the idea of compensating tropical countries for the carbon stored in their forests has gained traction. Known as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), the approach is being pushed by entities ranching from the World Bank, to the U.N., to conservation groups, to states and municipalities. Even Indigenous groups are experimenting with REDD+ projects. At a conceptual level, REDD+ operates as follows: tropical countries receive payments for reducing deforestation and forest degradation rates below a historic, mutually agreed-upon baseline. The payments go toward activities that reduce deforestation, whether its creating alternative livelihoods to slash-and-burn agriculture, subsidizing industrial agricultural expansion on degraded grasslands instead of forests, or providing health care to communities that normally depend on illegal logging to pay for medicine. While the idea sounds simple, in reality it is rather complex due to uncertainties on land rights, concerns that stopping deforestation in one place will only drive it elsewhere, worries about fairness and corruption, and controversies over the origin of the funds. Some believe that carbon offsets — whereby instead of reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions emissions, a polluter (e.g. a power company) pays another entity (e.g. a collective of poor farmers) to reduce its emissions (e.g. halting deforestation for small-scale agriculture) — should fund REDD+. Others balk at this approach and instead REDD+ should be funded by traditionally aid models, under which taxpayers in countries like Australia, Germany, and the United States foot the bill for rainforest conservation in places like Papua New Guinea, Congo, and Ecuador. Some argue for something in between known as hybrid models. Of course carbon is just one of many services afforded by forests. Some analysts believe water generated by rainforests may have an even higher value than carbon. In fact, Brazil has started valuing parts of the Amazon based on the rainfall it generates for agricultural region and the contribution to hydroelectric dams.
  • Commodity roundtables—In a similar vein, pricing carbon emissions into agricultural production could generate funds for conservation while discouraging deforestation. The idea is that agricultural producers who abide by certain standards that reduce carbon emissions — like avoiding deforestation — would see higher prices for their products or receive preferential market access, like reduced tariffs. Meanwhile producers who continue to clear forests would be charged for the associated emissions. The approach is not without precedent — several countries, including Indonesia, have deforestation charges.
  • Ecotourism—Ecotourism can fund efforts both through park entrance fees and employing locals as guides and in the handicraft and service sectors (hotels, restaurants, drivers, boat drivers, porters, cooks). Many lodges in and around protected areas charge a daily fee to visitors which goes toward supporting the forest.
  • Bio-prospecting fees—Rainforest countries can earn revenue by allowing scientists to develop products from a country's native plant and animal species. The pioneer in this area was Costa Rica, which entered into an agreement with the American pharmaceutical company, Merck, to look for plants with potential pharmaceutical applications. Under the agreement, a portion of the proceeds from compounds that do prove commercially valuable will go to the Costa Rican government, which has guaranteed that some of the royalties will be set aside for conservation projects. Similarly, in 2001 Givaudan, a Swiss fragrance and flavor company, sent a team to look for new exotic smells and flavors in Madagascar. Following their survey, Givaudan researchers "reconstituted" 40 aromas that could be used in commercial products. The company has agreed to share a portion of the profits from these products with local communities through conservation and development initiatives. However such approaches have been challenged by questions over intellectual property and compensation for native communities. The market has also proved smaller than originally hoped.
  • Corporate sponsorship—Corporations have been a bit slow in "adopting" parks, but they have the money and a marketing-driven interest in taking a closer look at such schemes. One possible approach was proposed in 2004 Eugene Linden, Thomas Lovejoy, and J. Daniel Phillips in a commentary for Foreign Affairs. In the editorial, they call for dividing tropical rainforests into blocks and then soliciting funding commitments from international environmental groups, development institutions, corporations, and other credible donors. There would be a bidding process, after which an entity would take responsibility for maintaining forest cover and forest health in each block of the entire forest system. This plan could be a road for corporations to become involved in conservation as a public-relations/marketing tool. A given percentage of the proceeds could be put into a trust fund with the payout ear-marked for ongoing conservation and sustainable development programs.

Further steps once funding is in place

  • Expand protected areas—As many areas should be protected as soon as possible. If protected areas can be developed in such a manner to generate income for local communities, an increasing number of parks should theoretically create more economic benefits for a greater share of the population.
  • Increase surveillance of and patrols in protected areas—This can be done at a reduced cost if local communities benefit from the success of the park. If locals have a vested interest (i.e. are compensated via entrance fees, hired as guides, make handicrafts to sell to tourists, and recognize the value of ecosystem services), they will want to watch the park so that the source of their income is not diminished. Community surveillance is the most effective way to patrol a protected area, though it will probably be necessary to have park staff conduct patrols as well. Guides should be trained as well to keep watch for activities that are damaging to the ecosystem and report suspicious activities.
  • Build research facilities for training local scientists and guides—Boosting intellectual capital can introduce a new dynamic to an economy, especially one based on resource extraction. Unlocking the value of forests provides a great opportunity for a country to capitalize on its natural assets. For example, rainforests are home to many plants with potential medicinal value, yet it is usually American or European companies that develop drugs based on these natural compounds. Why can't it be local scientists unlocking the value of these natural treasures and local companies turning them into commercial products? Beyond medicine, there are opportunities to improve crop yields, reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, and mitigate soil erosion.
  • Establish programs that promote sustainable use—Programs that promote sustainable use are key to elevating the standard of living for people living around protected areas. Not all members of a community will see the direct benefits from employment in the service or production sector, and many people will still rely on traditional use of the natural resources around them. These resources must be used in a more effective manner to maximize productivity and minimize the impact on the environment.
  • Compensate displaced people—The establishment of protected areas has often displaced local people, making them enemies of conservation and depriving them of their basis human rights. Therefore it is critical that new protected areas involve a process of "free prior informed consent" (FPIC) with stakeholders that could be affected. In cases where local communities decide to move, it is important that they are fairly compensated for abandoning their existing livelihood and homes. While direct cash payouts is an option, a better strategy may be to provide these displaced people with long-term income possibilities through training in improved agricultural techniques or alternative crops.
  • Involve Indigenous people, where they still exist, in park management. Indigenous people know more about the forest than anyone and have an interest in safeguarding it as a productive ecosystem that provides them food, shelter, and clean water. Research has found that in some cases, "indigenous reserves" may actually protect rainforest better than national parks in the Amazon. [More in our interview with Mark Plotkin and the Conservation Corridors Project.]
  • Promote ecotourism—Ecotourism is perhaps the best long-term approach for sustaining some tropical economies. Planners should seek to minimize the environmental impact and maximize the benefits for local communities.
  • Ensure economic success does not result in increased deforestation—As rural populations begin to reap benefits from conservation-related activities, it is important that they not reinvest this income in activities that result in further deforestation. Traditionally, in many villages, the more money someone made, the more money was put back into land clearing. Rural banks and savings institutions are virtually unknown in many parts of the developing world. Such facilities, which would enable both saving and lending, could rapidly change the lives of millions through increased entrepreneurship and the ability to put away money for the future.
  • Encourage entrepreneurship—Encouraging entrepreneurship through such a micro-credit strategy could pay significant dividends for a country's economy as a whole. Studies in developing countries have found that entrepreneurial skills among the poor are actually quite high when people are given access to capital. Stimulating entrepreneurship through small, low-cost loans is possibly a better approach than handouts, which may do little more than breed dependency and reduce human dignity.

Looking toward the future, tough choices

Simply banning the timber trade or establishing reserves will not be enough to salvage the world's remaining tropical rainforests. In order for the forest to be preserved, the underlying social, economic, and political reasons for deforestation must be recognized and addressed. Once the issues are brought into the light, the decision can be made about what should be done. If it is decided that rainforests must be saved, then the creation of multi-use reserves that promote sustainable development and education of local people would be a good place to start. Currently about 6 percent of the world's remaining forests are protected, meaning that over 90 percent are still open for the taking. However, even this 6 percent is not safe if the proper steps towards sustainable development are not taken. If possible, reforestation and restoration projects should be encouraged if we, humanity, hope to come out of this situation without serious, long-term consequences.


Unsustainable agricultural development in Malaysia. (Photo by R. Butler)

Sustainable Agriculture in Rainforests

In seeking a "solution" to deforestation of tropical rainforests—whether it be through debt-for-nature-swaps, extractive reserves, selective logging, ecotourism, or another strategy—the ultimate fate of forests rests in the hands of local people. While some would argue that rainforests can be "saved" by restricting economic growth, it is necessary to realize that parks and reserves will not persist unless local communities are persuaded that it is in their material interest to conserve.


For thousands of years tropical rainforests have been managed to sustain productive agriculture and at times to support dense human populations. It is estimated that more land was under cultivation in the Amazon on the eve of the arrival of Columbus than is today. Studies suggest that perhaps 12 percent of Amazonian terra firme (upland) forests are "anthropogenic in nature, resulting from prolonged management by prehistoric populations." The fact that certain forms of agriculture are possible is a vital consideration for the sustainable, economic development of tropical rainforests.

Rainforests have a long history of disturbance by humans who promoted areas of concentrated diversity of useful species within a diverse landscape. Without undermining the ecological basis of production, Indigenous communities promoted the abundance of certain valuable species by creating conditions favoring their growth and development. They fostered palm forests, groves of Brazil nuts and fruit trees, and vine forests near ancient Amazonian settlements (past settlements are marked by the presence of pottery and anthropogenic "black soils"). These vegetation types have species useful for everyday life.


Today we can incorporate the techniques of Indigenous peoples into agricultural projects in the rainforest to increase the productivity of degraded forest lands and promote sustainable use of forest resources. Through agroforestry and floodplain orchards, outright destruction of rainforests can be avoided, while improving economic efficiency and providing a source of income for rural poor.

Roughly a third to two-fifths of rainforest deforestation is caused by the shifted cultivator, who is usually pushed to marginal lands by lack of other suitable land. In some areas these farmers may be forced into the forests as a result of population growth and by landowners who hold large tracts of farmland. In many countries, wealthy landholders—who have the most political clout—control the most productive lands, leaving the small farmers little choice but to clear a homestead from the forest. For example, in Brazil, 10 percent of the population owns almost 90 percent of the fertile land. In many countries, the politically expedient way of dealing with this skewed land distribution has been to open up "unused" wildlands for poor farmers, rather than confront large landowners.

Some argue that some form of agrarian land reform is the best way to attack forest loss caused by "swidden agriculture." Land reform may turn some productive land over to poor farmers and be accomplished by reducing subsidies granted to large landowners for leaving tracts of their land uncultivated.

An additional, potentially complementary, approach to addressing the needs of the shifted cultivator and agriculturist alike is improving and intensifying currently existing agricultural projects and promoting alternative cultivation techniques—notably agroforestry—based on those used by Indigenous forest dwellers. Many cleared forest areas used for agriculture and now in decline can be salvaged by cultivation techniques that loosely mimic the diversity of the surrounding rainforest. In other words, polycultural fields—patchworks of perennial crops, annual crops, pasture land, secondary growth, and forest—could be the key to increasing agricultural productivity and reducing destruction in many rainforests.

Historically, agriculture in the Amazon rainforest has had a highly dynamic nature whether it be on a grand scale or at a subsistence level. Today a good deal of rainforest agriculture consists of monocultures (single crop fields) of annual crops, which must be replanted on a regular basis to sustain yields. Poor tropical soils quickly wear out under a regime of annuals, and fertilizers must be added or additional forest cleared if growth is to continue.

Many forest dwellers instead focus on perennials—crops which continue to produce for a number of years like citrus, manioc, vanilla, banana, mango, pepper, cacao, coffee, and rubber—as the basis of their agricultural techniques. Instead of continually clearing new sections of forest, these cultivators plant perennials or a mixture of perennials and annuals on their patch of land. Perennials can help restore nutrients to degraded soils, and they remain productive for decades, bringing a steady stream of cash to needy farmers.

A mixture of perennials and annuals often works best for small agricultural plots because such polycultural fields provide a diversified income (prices of many cash crops are notoriously volatile), as well as insurance if one crop fails. The home gardens of many forest dwellers are one form of agriculture well-suited to the rainforest environment. These diverse agroforestry systems provide a wealth of plant species—both local and foreign, since tropical plants like mango, pineapple, manioc, papaya, and orange have almost cosmopolitan distribution today. These species are also useful in everyday life. Home gardens can serve as a living pharmacy and a local hardware store, while providing shade for humans and livestock, foods for the kitchen, and ornamentals. Many home gardens contain remnants from old-growth forest in that useful forest trees (like Brazil nuts) are often left standing when clearing a homestead.

An added bonus of such agroforestry systems is that they maintain forest systems, soils, and biological diversity at a far higher level than do industrial agricultural techniques. As long as such fields are adjacent to secondary and old-growth forest, many species will continue to thrive. Growing crops like coffee, cocoa, bananas, and vanilla in the shade of canopy trees preserves more biodiversity than standard cultivation techniques. In recent years, "rainforest-friendly" coffee has gained popularity and is now heavily promoted in some parts of the United States. Polycultural fields also recover considerably faster than conventional fields when they are abandoned, because forest systems are maintained, including hydrological cycles, nutrient recycling, and seed dispersal.

Additionally, seed banks in the soil persist and crop trees provide shade necessary for canopy tree-seed generation, allowing a relatively smooth transition to secondary forest once the farmer moves on to a new area.

Despite all these positives, sustainable agriculture faces several hurdles in reaching widespread acceptance. Agroforestry and other forms of reduced-impact agriculture are more attuned to the ecological realities than most forms of agriculture in the rainforest, but they must also be attuned to economic realities. For example, many migrants to the rainforest are ignorant of such cultivation methods. Instead—assuming they even know anything of agricultural techniques—they often rely on what works in different climates and soil conditions—methods that typically fail on cleared rainforest lands.

Thus, one major challenge in promoting agroforestry is overcoming the ignorance of people who may have migrated to forest areas from cities about farming techniques that are effective in tropical areas. A second obstacle is the lack of access for many rural poor. Without means to transport their goods to market or even a market for their goods, locals have little chance of turning a profit for their labor. Another issue is a general lack of credit facilities from which poor farmers can borrow in times of need. Overcoming these obstacles—whether through improvement of existing roads, education systems, microfinance, or other means—will bring us much closer to resolving the shifted-cultivator problem.

Agroforestry techniques can be applied on a larger scale using corridors of forest and a mixture of perennials and annuals. While management and harvesting costs generally increase, these negatives could be outweighed by the value of income diversification, soil protection, maintenance of forest functions, and preservation of biodiversity. Sustainable agriculture is one of many means that can offer economic survival to landless poor and industry. Sustainable development through harvesting of the forests' renewable resources has potential for saving rainforests by providing tangible returns in the short run.


Fruit market in Madagascar. (Photo by R. Butler)

Saving Rainforests Through Sustainable Use of Forest Products

There are numerous forest products that can be collected in a renewable fashion on a small scale by local people. Although poor farmers must still overcome their ignorance of sustainable forest products and difficulties of distribution, the harvesting of forest products without destroying the forest can be more profitable in the long term than converting forest land for low intensity cattle pasture or marginal subsistence agriculture.

While studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s may have been overly optimistic about the potential for secondary wood products and non-timber forest products (NTFPs or NWFPs), more recent research suggests that forest products indeed serve as an important supplemental source of income for forest communities. For example, a recent CIFOR study estimated that forest product generate up to 20 percent of rural income and often provides the only means to access the cash economy. NTFPs can also be an important source of food and nutritional security.


Medicines, drugs, and herbal supplements from the rainforest are still largely underdeveloped and only a few may be known to the local people for harvesting. These are derived from bark, leaves, roots, and other plant parts and can be sold in local markets to other local people. In some cases, these products can be sold for export provided there is an overseas market (export-oriented harvesting has a greater risk of driving overexploitation).

Local communities generally do not reap much from drugs derived from rainforest plants by major foreign pharmaceutical companies because of the time and cost associated with drug development. Furthermore, once active ingredients are isolated from a plant, the drug can be synthesized in the lab. However, in some cases the active compounds are so complex or so expensive to synthesize that it is easier to collect from natural forest or cultivate on farms, something which could directly involve small farmers.

More on medicinal plants


Although only 10 percent of natural food colorants comes from rainforest products, rainforest colorings could potentially satisfy a larger proportion of the market. Local people could collect these colorants and sell them in local and urban markets. However, before this practice is feasible, a proper distribution system for these products must develop.


Some rainforest food products can be collected in a sustainable manner for profit. Most of these include fruits, nuts, and flavorings. Tropical American nuts, like cashews and Brazil nuts, account for hundreds of millions of dollars in sales to the U.S. alone. Many of these foods, particularly Brazil nuts, can be collected only from a fully functioning forest, and cannot be raised in plantations. The Brazil nut tree is a canopy species that grows in forests with full canopies.


The crusade of the rubber tappers of Brazil in the 1980s and the assassination of Chico Mendes became an inspiration for the sustainable use of the rainforest and various grass-roots conservation projects around the world. Rubber tappers earn their principal income, which can be more than four times higher than they would earn as factory workers in the city, from the sustainable harvesting of rubber, Brazil nuts, palm hearts, and other forest products. They understand that their livelihood depends on the functioning forest ecosystem, and are committed to the preservation of the forests as productive systems.

Natural rubber harvesters lead a markedly different existence from workers on industrial rubber plantations.


Wood can be sustainably harvested from the rainforest by locals. In some places, systems have been developed to facilitate the utilization of waste wood discarded by the timber industry. The operations can provides jobs for locals without driving deforestation or degradation of rainforests. One example is Tropical Salvage, a Portland, Oregon-based producer of wood products that salvages wood discarded from building sites, unearthed from mudslides and volcanic sites, and dredged from rivers and reservoirs in Indonesia and turns it into premium wood products. Another example is a project run by FUNDECOR in Costa Rica, whereby villagers collect scraps and discarded tree limbs left by commercial loggers. They saw the wood into boards on location, and sell the products to furniture companies.


Rattan, a common rainforest liana, is a valuable non-timber forest product, harvested from the forests of Southeast Asia, that generates US$3 billion annually in a global market. It is probably best known for its use in furniture.

The collection of fragrances for perfumes and flavorings, ornamental seeds and pods, and fibers for weaving and ropes can all offer economic benefits to peasants. However the concept of sustainable harvesting of forest products is important because overexploitation has been a problem in the past. For example the fragrant pau rosa tree of the Amazon has been diminished by overharvesting for the perfume and flavoring industries. Those who collected the fragrance in the past felled the whole tree. Research shows however that the fragrance can be extracted from the leaves and twigs of the tree, and now the collectors of pau rosa have been advised.

There are several obstacles restricting the collection of NWFPs from reaching their fullest potential. One problem is the lack of clear laws regarding user rights and access to forest lands. Because in many countries forest lands are considered common property, it is difficult to monitor collection and determine who has access rights to what resources. Another problem is how to manage NWFP collection in a sustainable way without over-harvesting. To date, most extractive products are generally collected without regard to their sustainability. A third challenge is the lack of adequate distribution systems for bringing goods to market and a general lack of consumer awareness of existing sustainably harvested forest products. Finally, the traditional barter system between local harvesters and merchants—especially prevalent in the Amazon as a throwback to the rubber boom—can be troublesome. Under this system—where manufactured goods and some food items are advanced to harvesters against the future delivery of forest products—many remain perpetually indebted to their creditors.

Despite these concerns some countries have established a system of extractive reserves to set aside areas explicitly for the harvesting of forest products. Some of these have been established with the hope that users will adopt sustainable harvesting techniques under the tutelage and guidance of various NGOs and government organizations.

It is important to realize that while the collection of NWFPs can be lucrative, such practices can only support a limited number of people on a sustainable basis. To raise the standard of living for a broader array of people, extractive reserves would probably have to be regarded as supplementary sources of income to enhance their earnings from other activities.


Gorilla tourism brings in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo. Click image for more gorilla photos. (Photo by R. Butler)

Rainforest Ecotourism

Ecotourism a leading way for developing countries to generate revenue by preserving their rainforests. Eco-tourists pay to see a country's natural beauty, not the destruction caused by short-run exploitation. Money spent directly in the local economy helps put a monetary value on forest preservation. Local people, along with the government, can see the importance of keeping the forest intact. And many tourists are willing to pay directly for preservation in the forms of park entrance fees and donations.

Ecotourism can provide local people with economic assistance by offering employment opportunities as wildlife guides, park rangers, and service workers in hotels, restaurants, and lodges. With eco-tourism, income is earned from preserving the ecosystem, and forest clearing is discouraged because it is detrimental to income. Similarly, ecotourism can reduce the need for poaching and hunting of forest animals for income. For example, in West Africa, former poachers are hired as park rangers since they have intimate knowledge of local animal wildlife. Ecotourism also provides opportunities for education that might not otherwise be available, both directly in the form of training and indirectly through conservation funds contributed to local schools.

Ecotourism can also boost demand for local handicrafts.

But while ecotourism is promising, tourism can have serious downsides. The risk is that as an ecotourism operation becomes successful, it may transition to mass-market nature-oriented tourism, which can be very damaging to the environment as well as local social conditions if not developed responsibly. A surge in tourist interest can drive hotel construction in sensitive areas; exacerbate conflict between operators, the local government, and communities; contribute to resource depletion (e.g. harvesting hardwoods for tourist handicrafts); and overwhelm a forest areas with a flood of visitors. Examples abound. Some parks in Costa Rica now have too many tourists, while poor oversight of orangutan tourism in parts of Indonesia has led to increased mortality among wild apes (orangutans can be infected by human diseases, which are transmitting when tourists offer food to the primates). Meanwhile an influx in relatively well-heeled foreigners can highlight wealth disparity and contribute to problems like prostitution.

Thus to ensure sustainability, ecotourism requires careful evaluation and planning. Short-term tourism development can doom forests as easily as unsustainable logging. Too many people, inadequate facilities, and poor park management can spell the end for the "eco" in ecotourism. Eco-tourism, when carried out in a sustainable fashion, can be beneficial to local people, the economy, and the environment. It should not be restricted to legally protected areas, but should also be promoted in natural areas that lack protection. The presence of tourists, when properly managed, protects the area from over-exploitive activities.


Preparation of cloves in Madagascar. (Photo by R. Butler)

Saving the Rainforest via Sustainable Development of Large-Scale Forest Products

More than half of rainforest deforestation today is caused by commercial interests: logging, cattle ranching, industrial agriculture, mining, power generation and energy production. With few exceptions, these activities degrade the long-term health of rainforest ecosystems and, in so doing, deplete natural assets.

Historically natural capital loss was rarely accounted. Today that is changing to a degree, but in many countries environmental degradation is still a secondary or tertiary factor in land use decisions. As such, tropical governments often subsidize short-term gains with little thought to the long-term consequences — natural resources are mined without consideration of future harvests.

In promoting raw resource extraction over stewardship of their unique natural assets, governments may be ignoring the best path for future economic growth. Wealth collected from extractive industries—essentially rent earned not from hard work or ingenuity, but from the particular qualities of the land—is not necessarily a solid foundation for an economy. Leveraging natural assets, like traditional knowledge, biodiversity and services afforded by ecosystems, can contribute to the long-term health of an economy, spurring the development of new technology and industries.

The Corporate Sector

Saving rainforests will hinge partly on finding ways for companies to remain profitable without devastating the environment. If we value forests, these industries will need to provide jobs that save the environment and not destroy it. We cannot reasonably expect local people to shun employment with these companies if they are the only form of work available to feed, house, and clothe their families.

There are many challenges facing industries that exploit forest resources, and difficult decisions and compromises will have to be made. These challenges stem from the differing opinions of the value of forest products and the services that forests provide. Developers must find a means to satisfy the growing demand for forest products and resources, while protecting forests and the environmental services they provide.


Secondary forest products collected by forest people in the Loita Hills of Kenya. (Photo by R. Butler)

Saving the Rain Forest with Secondary Forest Products

Large-scale development of secondary forest products could be one path toward boosting local and national income without destroying forests. Some forest products can be domesticated and cultivated on highly degraded and formerly forested lands. Many of these products are better suited to the tropical environment and can produce greater economic returns than imported temperate species.

As discussed earlier, small farmers can be incorporated into the national economy and large-scale agricultural production through small agroforestry plots that feed into the wider market.


There are a wide range of rainforest products that can be harvested at lower cost to the environment than widely harvested crops brought in from elsewhere. The keys are to developing these products at scale, bringing them to market, and then marketing them, while always working to ensure that damage to the environment is minimized.

Cultivated Foods

Many of the foods we eat today have their origins in the rainforest, including the avocado, banana, Brazil nuts, cassava/manioc, cashews, chocolate/cocoa, cinnamon, cloves, coconut, coffee, cola, corn/maize, eggplant, fig, ginger, grapefruit, guava, herbal tea ingredients, jalapeno, lemon, mango, orange, papaya, peanut, pepper, pineapple, potato, rice, squash, sugar cane, tomato, and vanilla. But there are still many more that have yet to be developed to their fullest potential: of the 3,000 rainforest fruits, only 200 are regularly used.

Of the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 species of plants that have edible parts, only about 7,000 have been cultivated or collected. Of these, only 20 species provide 90 percent of the food needs, while rice, wheat, and maize make up more than 50 percent of caloric intake. Tropical agriculture with conventional crops has often proven to be a failure because tropical forest lands are rife with pests, disease, poor soils, drought, and inconsistent rainfall. Tropical agriculture based on these few crops rarely eases poverty for local people — most benefits accrue to large landowners and corporation.

What is needed is experimentation with other plants, especially those that would be better situated to cultivation in the tropics. For example, the Buruti palm of the Amazon produces a vitamin-rich fruit with a bread-like pith, while two plants from West Africa produce compounds thousands of times sweeter than sucrose and could be used as natural sweeteners.

There are already examples of breakthrough plants. Witness the surge in popularity for açai berries derived from an Amazon palm tree. While expansion has had some negative social and environmental impacts, açai can be cultivated in a way that is minimally damaging. Meanwhile sago palm in Southeast Asia is used widely as a starch in sweets and grows better when cultivated in a mixed forest habitat rather than a single-species plantation.

Animal-based foods

Similarly, rainforest animals have great potential as semi-domesticated food animals for the tropics. These are better suited to the tropical climate and tropical ecosystems than domestic animals brought from more temperate climates that can be destructive of the rainforest lands and species. Using native animals means lower environmental impact, greater diversity of animal-based foods, and greater efficiency of production than cattle ranching.

Tropical species with potential as sources of meat include Amazon river turtles (Podocnemus sp), which have long been harvested (usually unsustainably) from their native habitat for their tasty meat. These turtles can be easily cultivated in cement ponds located along the floodplains of tropical rivers and raised on aquatic vegetation and fruit. The turtle produces 22,000 pounds of meat per acre (24,659 kg per hectare) more than 400 times the yield of cattle raised in pastures and in a far less costly manner to the environment.

The green iguana of Central and South America has been over-hunted for its chicken-like meat and is endangered in some of its range. The iguana is already being raised commercially in farms in Central America. Iguanas can be ten times as productive in terms of yield as cattle on the same land, reducing the need to clear additional forest areas for pasture. The capybara (the world's largest rodent), chachalacas (like tropical chickens), and paca (cat-sized rodents) are other New World mammals that could provide sources of tropical meat without major disruption to the ecosystem. These are just a sampling (from the New World alone) of tropical species that could productively replace temperate domestic animals in the tropics.


In 2010, wheat grew on 838,700 square miles (217 million hectares) of land around the world. With an average of 2 million stalks per hectare, the total number of individuals exceeds 434 trillion individuals. Clearly wheat is not an endangered species, but because of selective breeding toward genetic uniformity, wheat has lost most of its populations and hence its genetic variability. What is the recourse if a disease breaks out in this gargantuan monoculture? Most likely scientists will scour the few wild places left on Earth for the remaining wild strains of wheat in hopes of finding genetic traits that will offer resistance to the pest.

In addition to food, rainforests serve as reservoirs of genetic diversity. These wild species have traits that have been inadvertently removed by selective breeding, a process which selects traits based primarily on their utility to man. Thus domesticated plants and animals are more susceptible to pests and disease. To protect domestic species from these hazards, they can be bred with wild species that still retain traits protecting them from agricultural pests.

The most famous example of the value of wild gene pools comes from Asia in the 1970s when the rice crop was struck with grassy stunt virus, threatening the rice crop across the continent. The International Rice Institute surveyed some 6,273 varieties of rice for attributes against grassy stunt. Of this array, only one, inhabiting a small Indian valley slated to be cleared and developed, proved to have the desired qualities. It was crossed with the predominant form of rice, creating a resistant hybrid, and was subsequently bred across Asia. Had it not been for this tiny reservoir of diversity, Asia would have faced a deadly human catastrophe. Today the ICCO (the International Cocoa Organization) is seeking out new strains of cocoa in the Orinoco and Amazon rainforests. The ICCO is searching for varieties that will improve the yield and resistance of commercially grown cocoa, which has a very narrow genetic base. For example, the entire cocoa agriculture of Ghana, a major world cocoa producer, is derived from a single pod brought in the 1870s by a visiting blacksmith. Commercial oil palm and rubber face similar risks from narrow genetic bases.


Tiriyo (Trio) shaman in southern Suriname. (Photo by R. Butler)

Saving Rainforests with Medicinal Plants

Plants have broader uses than as just food and a genetic reservoir. Increasingly, rainforest plants, and to a lesser extent rainforest animals, are the source of compounds useful for medicinal purposes.

The rainforest has been called the ultimate chemical laboratory with each rainforest species experimenting with various chemical defenses to ensure survival in the harsh world of natural selection. They have been synthesizing these compounds for millions of years to protect against predators, infection, pests, and disease. This makes rainforest species an excellent reservoir of medicines and chemical templates with which researchers can create new drugs.

Rainforest plants have already provided tangible evidence of their potential with remedies for a range of medical problems, from childhood leukemia to toothaches. Seventy percent of the plants identified as having anti-cancer characteristics by the US National Cancer Institute are found only in the tropical rainforest.

Despite all their promise, as of the early 2000s fewer than 10 percent of tropical forest plant species (and 0.1 percent of animal species) had been examined for their chemical compounds and medicinal value. Once a plant with the desired qualities is discovered, it is rigorously analyzed for its chemical structure, then goes through clinical trials for effectiveness and safety before getting final approval from the US FDA. Nevertheless, using rainforest species for derivation and synthesis of medicinal compounds, has become a mainstream process. In 1983 there were no U.S. pharmaceutical firms involved in research on such plants; within 15 years there were well over 100 corporations, and U.S. government agencies studying rainforest plants for their medicinal capacities.

One such organization, the U.S. National Cancer Institute, maintains screening of rainforest species for anti-cancer and anti-HIV effects. Because there are so many plant species, researchers concentrate on close relatives of plants already known to produce useful compounds. Another method is to choose plants that display characteristics indicating they have an effect on animals, like deterring insect pests. Many chemicals toxic to insects show bio-activity in humans meaning they may have drug promise.

Indigenous uses of plants can also offer hints of potentially useful plants. For thousands of years, Indigenous groups have extensively used rainforest plants for their health needs. They have experimented with a wide range of plants. The peoples of Southeast Asian forests used 6,500 species, while Northwest Amazonian forest dwellers used at least 1,300 species for medicinal purposes. The success rate for discovering medicinal plants with traditional uses is high because rainforest peoples, notably shamans, have been experimenting with various combinations and dosages for generations. A 1990s study in Samoa found that 86 percent of the plants used by local healers yielded biological activity in humans.

The National Cancer Institute can rapidly screen compounds for activity against 60 cancer types. When the compound shows promise, chemists isolate the molecules responsible for the activity and then compare the molecular structure with that of known chemicals. Sometimes the molecule already has been identified, but is not used medicinally; at other times the molecule will be altered to produce the desired action. If the molecule has potential as a drug, it is tested for certain characteristics including safety, effectiveness, and side effects. If it passes those tests, a corporation or government agency must finance bringing the drug to market—a process that costs more than $800 million and may take a decade or more. Before reaching the public market, the drug must go through rigorous clinical trials. According to the Global Bioscience Development Institute, for every 10,000 to 20,000 compounds screened for possible activity in the basic-research stage, about 250 make it as far as pre-clinical testing. Of those, five drug candidates make it as far as clinical trials, and only one becomes an actual FDA-approved drug. Thus the process of bringing a rainforest drug, or any pharmaceutical product, to market is long and costly.

>Nevertheless, commercial sales from such drugs can generate huge sums: the two chemicals derived from rosy periwinkle bring in revenues of US$160 million per year. Large companies usually benefit the most from such projects while the local peoples and shamans get little in return. For example, virtually no money from the Vincristine (Oncovin) and vinblastine derived from the rosy periwinkle made it back to the country of origin, Madagascar. However, once the drug patent expired, Madagascar was able to begin exporting tons of crude periwinkle annually.

In the past such exploitation, known as biopiracy, was the rule. While drug companies raked in millions in revenue, the community that found the plant producing the drug was left with token baseball hats, beads, or aspirin as compensation. One of the biggest biopiracy coups occurred last century when the British smuggled (at least Brazilians allege) rubber tree seeds out of Brazil to their colony of Malaysia, ending the lucrative Amazonian monopoly on rubber.

In the 1990s a bitter patent battle has erupted between an American entrepreneur and COICA, an organizations representing Indigenous peoples from the Amazon region, over ayahuasca or yagé. Yagé is a celebrated hallucinogenic, derived from a rainforest liana (Banisteriopsis caapi) and other plants, which is used ceremonially by Amazonians. The biopiracy incident was initiated in 1986 when American Loren Miller visited Ecuador and took a sample of yagé without permission and then acquired a patent from the U.S. government. Miller subsequently launched the International Plant Medicine Corporation to commercialize yagé for psychiatric and cardiac pharmaceuticals. COICA argued Miller had no right to patent a plant compound that has been used for generations by Indigenous peoples. Complicating the debate was the refusal of the U.S. Senate to ratify the UN Convention on Biodiversity, which has been ratified by more than 100 countries including Ecuador, where the Yagé sample was acquired. The UN agreement includes the recognition of intellectual property rights of Indigenous peoples. The U.S. Patent Office (USPTO) eventually overturned the patent in 1999, only reinstating it in 2001. The patent expired in 2003.

This exploitation without compensation has been the historical trend, although today there is more awareness on the need to consult with Indigenous practitioners and ensure that benefits reach local people. Most tropical countries lack the expertise to identify, develop, and commercialize drugs derived from rainforest plants, so drug research and development will likely continue to be dominated by industrialized countries. However compensation for the country of the product's origin must be addressed if the sources of these products —the tropical rainforest—are to be preserved.

Several pharmaceutical companies have agreed to share revenues with local people. The drug Prostialin, isolated in 1984 from a Samoan rainforest tree, has exhibited strong activity against HIV in tests. With its discovery, the National Cancer Institute has guaranteed that part of the royalties from the sale of the drug will be returned to the Samoans. As a result, Samoa fiftieth national park was established to encourage local healers to use medicinal plants in a sustainable way, in order to pass their knowledge on to the next generation. Similarly, in 1991, Merck and Company invested $1 million in Costa Rica's National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) to assist in a cataloging and screening effort. The institute collects and identifies organisms, sending samples from the most promising species to Merck laboratories for medicinal assay. If the compounds prove useful and the resulting drugs make it to market, the Costa Rican government is guaranteed some of the royalties, which will be set aside for conservation projects.

The rainforest may someday provide the cure for AIDS, pancreatic cancer, antibiotic-resistant staph infections, ebola, lassa fever, or Alzheimer's disease, if given the chance to do so. Unfortunately, as primary forest cover is diminished by 1-2 percent every year, it is projected that 20-25 percent of the world's plant species will be extinct by the year 2015. Perhaps in some remote Andean valley, slated for destruction today, lives a rare orchid which has developed an anti-viral chemical that kills HIV, halts cancer, or slows aging. In addition, the shamans who provide much of the insight into identifying these plants and their uses, are disappearing at an even faster rate as their villages seek a more Western lifestyle. These shamans are generally elders and when they die, their unique knowledge of traditional uses of rainforest plants will die with them.

Some organizations are trying to prevent the loss of medicinal knowledge when Indigenous elders die. The Terra Nova Rainforest Reserve is the first ethnomedicinal forest reserve designed to ensure that medicinal plants will be available for local use. The reserve encourages the use of such plants and has also implemented a program teaching youths about uses of medicinal plants so this knowledge will not die, but be passed on to future generations and researchers.

National botanical gardens, like those of Missouri and New York, are playing an important role in propagating medicinal plants that are either threatened in the wild or so rare that collection cannot satisfy demand. Several gardens have propagated such medicinal plants and freely distributed seedlings to peasants who can integrate them into their traditional food crops. The plants can provide substantially more cash than many traditional crops like bananas, coffee, and cocoa.

Animals as an inspiration for drugs

Animals also provide compounds useful to humans as medicinal drugs. Both leeches and vampire bats have powerful anticoagulants they use in feeding on their prey. From the saliva of the leech comes hirudin, which is now used to dissolve blood clots in humans. The vampire bat has a substance in its saliva that can be used to prevent heart attacks. The slimy secretions of frogs are used to treat infections, mental disorders, and even HIV, while scientists hope that one day blood from the ubiquitous (in the western U.S.) western fence lizard (more popularly known as the "blue-belly") will help prevent or cure Lyme disease. ABT-594 is an experimental painkiller derived from the skin secretions of Epipedobates tricolor, a colorful poison arrow frog, and crocodile blood is being examined for its anti-HIV properties.

Natural rainforest pesticides

Plants have been synthesizing chemicals for millions of years to protect them from predation by insects and infection from disease. Thus rainforest plants have developed a complete array of natural pesticides. These pesticides can be isolated, and some can be synthesized in the laboratory by pharmaceutical companies. These natural pesticides are effective for protecting cultivated crops from destruction by pests and disease, without the adverse effects of chemical pesticides like DDT.

New research shows that using natural predators like wasps and flies combined with limited use of pesticides is more effective in eradicating pests in the tropics than regular spraying with synthetic pesticides. Chinese scientists have even engineered wasps to deliver lethal viruses to insect pests.

In addition to protecting crops from infestation, many rainforest plants can be used as insect repellents. The roots of the liana, a philodendron from American rainforests, have an odor that keeps away mosquitoes, while the bright orange berries of another New World plant, Bixa orellana, are effective in deterring biting insects, in addition to being used as a body paint and dye. These compounds may be further studied and analyzed by pharmaceutical companies to create new insect repellents that might be less detrimental to the skin and plastic materials than conventionally-used DEET. These highly effective insect repellents are more ecologically sound and inexpensive to produce.


Illegally logged rainforest wood cut into boards in Indonesian Borneo. Click on image for more photos from the area. (Photo by R. Butler)

Sustainable Logging in the Rainforest


In many tropical countries forests are government-owned and ownership by parties other than the state is often prohibited. Timber is usually harvested under concession agreements awarded to private logging firms which, without securing ownership rights to the land, are often reluctant to make investments in long-term forest management. Thus it is little surprise that a recent study by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) found that more than 90 percent of tropical forests are managed poorly or not at all.

Many tropical countries have sound forestry laws on the books but lack the capacity or political will to enforce them. In the absence of regulation, loggers may ignore the negative environmental impacts of their actions, since they derive little or no financial benefit from mitigating them. Typical management problems include: improperly conducted pre- and post-harvesting inventories, re-logging at more frequent intervals than required, cutting outside concession boundaries, and ineffective control and supervision by forest ministries.

In some countries, a significant proportion of logging is done illegally. Low capital costs for small-scale logging makes it easy for fly-by-night operators to harvest valuable timber from poorly monitored or protected forests and smuggle across borders or launder it through legal operations. The World Bank estimates illegal logging generates $10-15 billion annually for organized crime.

Beyond deforestation, one problem with illegal logging is it costs governments money. Unable to collect taxes on illegally-cut timber, money that could otherwise be used for better oversight in the forestry sector, sustainable rural development initiatives, or conservation programs is effectively pocketed by illegal loggers and syndicates syndicates.

Forestry need not be so damaging to forests, especially in secondary forests. Some forest managers now put emphasis on maintaining forests as functional ecological systems while providing multiple economic benefits, rather than a focus on short-term profit maximization. Innovative approaches include greater involvement of local communities, diversification of forest products to include NWFPs, and the development of plantation forests on degraded lands and non-forest. While great strides have been made in recent years to develop more sustainable management policies, logging as generally practiced in the tropics has a substantial environmental impact.

CASE STUDY: Industrial logging leaves a poor legacy in Borneo's rainforests

For most people "Borneo" conjures up an image of a wild and distant land of rainforests, exotic beasts, and nomadic tribes. But that place increasingly exists only in one's imagination, for the forests of world's third largest island have been rapidly and relentlessly logged, burned, and bulldozed in recent decades, leaving only a sliver of its once magnificent forests intact. Flying over Sabah, a Malaysian state that covers about 10 percent of Borneo, the damage is clear. Oil palm plantations have metastasized across the landscape. Where forest remains, it is usually degraded. Rivers flow brown with mud.



Although as much as 80 percent of tropical timber is consumed internally by producing nations, consumption of tropical timber by the U.S. and other industrial countries plays a significant role in tropical deforestation. The U.S., with less than 5 percent of the world's population, is the second largest importer of tropical timber, shelling out more than $5.4 billion annually for 21 million cubic meters of industrial roundwood, sawnwood, veneer, and plywood from the tropics. Additional tropical timber comes to the U.S. as finished products from China. The best actions to reduce the damage caused by logging activities are to impose strict restrictions, even banning, imports of certain tropical hardwoods; developing more sustainable means of extracting rainforest timber; certifying timber with regards to its origins and whether it was responsibly harvested; and using alternatives to tropical wood products.

Restricting Timber Trade

Restricting or banning the import of certain tropical woods that cannot reasonably be harvested without considerable damage to the rainforest—like mahogany, ceiba, and ebony—is a highly controversial issue. Usually the restriction of trade in certain species is established by listing the species on CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) but this sometimes has the effect of driving up prices for banned wood, making harvesting even more profitable.

The restriction of trade by listing certain species on CITES is controversial because the practice tends to discriminate against developing countries with limited consequences for developed nations. Environmental advocates have encouraged the governments of industrialized countries to list a number of tropical timber species found in tropical countries. Critics argue who has the right to determine which species are listed? What are the rights of the affected country? What compensation is due to the affected country? Can we reasonably expect developing countries to absorb the economic costs imposed by industrialized countries?

These questions need to be addressed to ensure relative equality in the international market and to make the program viable. In addition, the listing of species on CITES is difficult because of a lack of adequate information on traded timber species. Few know how many individuals of a particular species exist in the wild and how that species is affected by trade. Furthermore, trade of particular species is poorly tracked and many harvested species are difficult to distinguish from one another.

The aim of restricting trade of tropical tree species is to slow deforestation caused by the extraction of certain tree species. The hope is that listing a species will essentially take it off the open market, reducing forest clearing for its specific harvesting. Though illegal logging and smuggling may thrive, total traffic in the species may decline.

The governments of consuming countries are also establishing legal mechanisms for prohibiting illicit timber imports. In 2008 the U.S. revised the Lacey Act to govern the sourcing of timber products. The E.U. passed a similar rule — called FLEG-T — shortly thereafter. Both regulations put the burden of responsibility for ensuring timber legality on importing companies, holding them to the environmental laws of producing countries, even when those countries are unwilling or unable to enforce their rules. Companies found to be sourcing illegally logged timber are potentially subject to fines or worse. Gibson Guitar was the first company found to be violating the Lacey Act when it imported ebony from the rainforests of Madagascar.

The response of tropical governments to slow the depletion of timber resources or increase revenue has typically been to restrict the export of raw logs and encourage the exports of value-added products like sawnwood and furniture. The idea is that instead of exporting raw materials at a low profit, a country can increase national revenue by exporting products that have a higher value and stimulate domestic industry. Many countries including Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia, Gabon, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea have implemented log export moratoriums at various times since the 1990s to foster the development of value-added product industries. Some of these bans are still in effect.

A second national response to widespread logging is to issue a temporary moratorium on all logging operations to create a window for the government to reassert control in the forestry sector. In the 1990s to mid-2000s, Suriname, Guyana, Papua New Guinea, Brazil, and the Democratic Republic of Congo implemented issued such moratoriums in response to the accelerating inflow of foreign timber firms. However, such moratoriums are difficult to uphold, especially with understaffed forestry departments. Felling often continues, and temporary export bans are easily bypassed with widespread smuggling, often in conjunction with political figures or the military.

In 2011 Indonesia established a two-year moratorium on new logging and plantation concessions across 14.5 million hectares of primary forest and peatlands as part of its Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program. The government of Norway jump-started the program with a billion dollar pledge in 2010.

Timber Certification

International trade in forest products is affected by environmental concerns, though trade actions alone cannot ensure the sustainable management of forests. Timber certification operates on the assumption that consumers are willing to pay a premium on products harvested in a sustainable manner, by labeling such products with a "seal of approval." One of the better-known timber certification agencies is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) [news and information], an international non-profit membership-based organization which confirms that timber and other forest products are coming from sustainably managed forests. As of January 2006, FSC has certified more than 388.7 million acres (157.3 million ha) of forest in 80 countries. With eco-labeling, consumers know if products come from responsibly managed forest, and will be able to make an informed choice.

In recent years, the number of timber certification schemes has surged, but demand is strong in only a limited number of markets, mostly Europe and to a lesser degree, the United States. Certification and eco-labeling has benefitted from the development of green building standards like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

There are several challenges facing the certification movement including: a limited number of forests that can meet the strict requirements of certification, the lack of an adequate definition of what constitutes sustainable forestry, limited consumer interest in products from sustainably managed forests, ignorance of forest owners on how to meet certification standards, greenwashing by firms that fail to responsibly manage forests, and hostile international relations between forest-product producers and consumer countries. Critics and supporters alike realize that certification, can act as a sort of non-tariff trade discrimination. Those countries (usually tropical countries) which are unable or unwilling to manage forests in a sustainable way can suffer from a shift toward more certification, while consumer countries like the United States and Europe are relatively unaffected. Interests in some tropical countries at times play up certification as an issue of sovereign rights in an attempt to deepen a wedge between environmental and economic concerns.

The FSC is not without controversy. Some environmentalists say its standards are too weak to ensure actual sustainable forest management. Critics from the forestry sector argue that the standards discriminate against small loggers, especially those in poor countries, and the certification process primarily benefits rich-world auditors.

Certification news feed

Ending Subsidies

Perhaps a more effective national response is to end subsidies that stimulate deforestation. By ending subsidies for sawmills and road construction, logging of tropical rainforests will more accurately reflect the true costs of harvesting. For example, in several African countries extraction and production costs outpace revenues so that cash-poor governments end up essentially subsidizing the logging industry using donor funds or other revenue sources (corrupt officials however may benefit from these sorts of activities). In Indonesia, where ex-president Suharto's circle of wealthy friends in the timber and plantation industries used to get large tax breaks, the government kept pulp-wood prices artificially low, using subsidies to ensure that paper mills were profitable. These types of subsidies are not in the national interest, since they benefit only a small group of individuals.

Reduced-Impact Logging and Improved Forest Management

Although numerous companies claim to practice "sustainable logging", few actually do. Economics is a primary reason — waiting for timber stocks to recover after selective logging can take a generation. It is more profitable to harvest and run or convert the concession to an industrial plantation.

However recovery can be hastened, and ecological damage reduced, by adopting reduced-impact logging practices. These include: 1) cutting climbers and lianas well before felling; 2) directional tree felling to inflict the smallest impact on the surrounding forest; 3) establishing stream buffer zones and watershed protection areas; 4) using improved technologies to reduce damage to the soil caused by log extraction; 5) careful planning to prevent excess roads which give access to transient settlers; 6) reducing wood waste for cut areas (anywhere from 25-50 percent of the wood from a given cleared patch is wasted); 7) limiting the gradient of roads to prevent excess erosion. These steps can limit damage to the surrounding forest, cut erosion of topsoil, enable faster recovery of the forest, and reduce the risk of fire. The biggest drawback to such harvesting methods is the great management expense, because more supervision, planning, and training are required and fewer trees can be removed, reducing output and income. Nonetheless, it seems clear that some short-term sacrifices will have to made to establish new forest management for long-term benefits. The big question is whether it is in the economic interest of timber operators to adopt these methods without prodding from government agencies or specific market demand for "greener" products.

Increasing the transparency of business transactions and standardizing the procedures of awarding concessions will also improve forest management. By stimulating open competition through auctions, questionable concessions granted through nepotism or corruption can be reduced. Instead of bribes, concessions could be granted to bidder who make the best offers, both in terms of cash and minimal environmental impact. Governments could also require a "performance bond" worth 10-15 percent of the value of a firm's investment for companies exploiting the forest. The bond is held to guard against environmental degradation and used to repair damage caused by poor logging practices.

Examples of More Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable management implies the maintenance of the productivity of the asset base. Thus, in theory, under sustainable forest management, logging should meet the needs of the present without compromising the continuity of the ecosystem and the goods and services that it provides. There are sustainable methods of harvesting rainforest hardwoods, although these appear to have the most success when conducted on a small-scale, in the form of well-managed community forestry. For example, the Amuesha Indians in the Yanesha Forestry Cooperatives Project of Peru employ a technique sometimes known as strip logging, based loosely on a rotating concept much like their traditional technique of slash-and-burn agriculture. They log a strip of forest 65 feet wide and use their oxen to take trees to a local sawmill. The gap is narrow enough to allow rapid plant colonization and seed dispersal across the clearing, while the soil is relatively undisturbed by the use of animal transport. The surrounding forest rapidly fills in the gap and within 20 years the strip is covered with secondary forest. In the meantime, the Indians take timber from other strips. When the forest has recovered, the Indians can again return to log the secondary forest. The rotating cycle only impacts a relatively small area and is a renewable practice. Commercial logging companies could follow an adaptation of this renewable technique. Though in the short run it is more costly and inefficient, in the log run it helps preserve the rest of the forest and the services and resources it provides. In any case, many ecologists argue that it is important to leave some areas of forest — especially old-growth or primary forest — completely untouched to accommodate those species that cannot tolerate life in disturbed forest.

Studies have found that reduced-impact logging can be used to reduce carbon emissions by up to 40 tons per hectare of forest compared to conventional logging. This, combined with the preservation of higher levels in biodiversity in selectively logged forests, lends a strong case to sustainable forest management over standard timber-harvesting techniques.

Using Alternatives to Tropical Timber

There is much potential for using alternatives to tropical rainforest timber, including wood sourced from plantations established on degraded, non-forest land. Studies have show there are 800 million to 1.6 billion hectares of degraded land with little or no forest that could be suitable for timber plantations. With remote sensing technology, watchdog groups and governments need to ensure that forests aren't converted for new plantations.

Another alternative is to shift toward non-wood fibers like bamboo and straw, especially for low-value pulpwood for paper production, which is an important driver of deforestation in many parts of the world, especially Indonesia. Bamboo — members of the grass family — grow rapidly and can also be used in construction and for clothing manufacture.

Reused and Recycled Wood Products

Tropical rainforests are used as sources for pulpwood in paper manufacturing. However, with improved methods of paper recycling and more dependence on plantation forests, less wood need come from natural forests.


Increasingly, timber firms are turning to plantations to provide forest resources. Forest plantations are essentially tree crops planted for the particular purpose of providing a specific source for wood products. Forest plantations are generally composed of a few tree species which have useful attributes like rapid growth, low management requirements, and high product yield.

Plantation forests have the potential to help meet demand for forest products like industrial roundwood, fuelwood, and pulpwood while at the same time providing some of the functions of natural forests including soil stabilization, prevention of erosion, carbon emissions mitigation, and maintaining the water cycle. However plantations established in place of natural forests — especially primary forest or well-developed secondary forest — generally represent a net ecological loss. Furthermore, the establishment of plantations on contested community land can spark social conflict.

Therefore it is critical that forest plantations be limited to highly degraded forest and non-forest lands. Provided they are established in such areas and that local communities are properly consulted, plantations can offer substantial benefits, including generating local livelihoods and acting as buffers around protected areas.

Smallholder plantations are an important source of local income in the tropics. For example, small rubber plantations in Indonesia — sometimes called "jungle rubber" — provide a livelihood for over a million people and generate more than half the country's rubber export revenues. Plantation species, primarily used for oil, food, and rubber production, are increasingly being used as secondary fuelwood sources by local families after harvesting primary products.


Cattle in eastern Colombia. Click image for more cattle photos. (Photo by R. Butler)

Reducing the impact of cattle ranching in the rainforest


The oil industry has a less-than-stellar environmental record in general, but it becomes even worse in tropical rainforest regions, which often contain rich deposits of petroleum. The most notorious examples of rainforest havoc caused by oil firms are Shell Oil in Nigeria and Texaco in Ecuador. The operations run by both companies degraded the environment and affected local and Indigenous people by their activities. The Texaco operation in Ecuador was responsible for spilling some 17 million gallons of oil into the biologically rich tributaries of the upper Amazon, while in the 1980s and 1990s Shell Oil cooperated with the oppressive military dictatorship in Nigeria in the suppression and harassment of local people.


Addressing forest degradation and clearing for pastureland is difficult, but important due to the severe soil leaching and erosion under traditional grazing systems. Rainforest clearing for cattle can be immediately reduced by eliminating tax incentives and land policies that encourage such activities. Productivity can be increased on existing pastureland through better ranch management as well as by introducing agroforestry techniques. Through intercropping—the strategy of planting perennial trees on pastureland—ranchers can diversify their income while reducing soil erosion and maintaining higher soil quality. At the same time these patches retain considerably higher levels of biological diversity than bare fields. Livestock also benefits from the shade and add fertilizer to the base of the trees as they take refuge from the sun.

Other measures include fencing off healthy forest areas and waterways from livestock, curtailing the use of fire in land management, adopting no-till cropping systems, and the use of terracing. Preserving riparian forest and vegetation on hillsides can help maintain ecosystem connectively and reduce soil erosion.

One of the biggest challenges to shifting toward less-damaging and more productive ranching approaches is lack of knowledge among ranchers. Information on best practices can be disseminated by government-run agricultural extension services, training programs, and industry publications, radio and TV shows. Ranchers are more likely to listen to other ranchers.


Ranching across most of the Amazon is a marginal livelihood. Therefore incentives are needed to encourage ranchers of adopt better practices. These may come through improved market access or higher produce prices via a certification system, subsidized loans for embracing more sustainable approaches, or direct payments for maintaining ecosystem services (like carbon payments for preserving forest beyond legal requirements). Since the late 2000s, Aliança da Terra, a Brazilian NGO, has been working on combining all three approaches via a land registry for ranchers.

Cattle ranching news feed


Windmill in Australia. (Photo by Rhenda Glasco)

Reducing the environmental impact of oil extraction in the rainforest

The simplest and most reliable way to mitigation damage from oil operations would be to prohibit oil extraction in the tropical rainforest. But that is unlikely given the number of tropical countries that produce oil and the wealth of oil deposits located in forest areas. Thus the focus is on reducing pollution and avoiding spills through better pipeline management, reinjection techniques, and halting methane flaring. Limiting road development and restricting access can help avoid deforestation associated with settlement.


The energy and technology sectors are investing heavily in alternatives to conventional fossil fuels, but early efforts to use crop-based biofuels have had serious environmental consequences.

While some believed biofuels—fuels that are derived from biomass, including recently living organisms like plants or their metabolic byproducts like cow manure— would offer environmental benefits over conventional fossils fuels, the production and use of biofuels derived from palm oil, soy, corn, rapeseed, and sugar cane have in recent years driven up food prices, promoted large-scale deforestation, depleted water supplies, worsened soil erosion, and lead to increased air and water pollution. Still, there is hope that the next generation of biofuels, derived from farm waste, algae, and native grasses and weeds, could eliminate many of the worse effects seen during the current rush into biofuels.


Good old-fashioned oil conservation is effective in reducing demand for oil products. After the first OPEC embargo in 1973, the United States realized the importance of oil efficiency and initiated policies to do away with wasteful practices. By 1985, the U.S. was 25 percent more energy efficient and 32 percent more oil efficient than in 1973. Of course the U.S. was upstaged by the Japanese who in the same period improved their energy efficiency by 31 percent and their oil efficiency by 51 percent. Today the importance of oil to the economy continues to diminish. Despite the 51 percent growth in the American economy between 1990 and 2004, carbon emissions only increased 19% suggesting that those who insist that economic growth and carbon dioxide emissions move in tandem are wrong.

Develop new technology

The developed world can seek alternative methods to oil exploration, by developing new technologies that rely less on processes that are ecologically damaging. For example, compressed natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel than gasoline, is already used in some cars, and is available in vast quantities. Electric cars are potentially even more environmentally sound.

To encourage investment in research and development of "greener" technologies, governments can help by eliminating subsidies for the oil and gas industry and imposing higher taxes on heavy polluters. While governments will play a role in cleaner-energy development, it is likely that the private sector will provide most of the funding and innovation for new energy projects. Venture capital firms and corporations have put billions into new technologies since the mid-2000s, while corporations are getting on board as well.

As experiences with biofuels have shown, there are often downsides to alternative energy sources. For example, hydroelectric projects have destroyed river systems and flooded vast areas of forests. Thus when undertaking any large-scale energy project — whether it's wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, or something else — it is important to conduct a proper assessment of its impact.


Admittedly, there are many challenges facing sustainable use of tropical rainforests. In arriving at a solution many issues must be addressed, including the resolution of conflicting claims to land considered to be in the public domain; barriers to markets; the assurance of sustainable development without over-exploitation in the face of growing demand for forest products; determination of the best way to use forests; and the consideration of many other factors.

Almost none of these economic possibilities can become realities if the rainforests are completely stripped. Useful products cannot be harvested from species that no longer exist, just as eco-tourists will not visit the vast stretches of wasteland that were once lush forest. Thus some of the primary rainforests must be salvaged for sustainable development to be at all successful.


Smallholder forest conversion in New Guinea. (Photo by R. Butler)

Reducing the environmental impact of oil extraction in the rainforest

In reducing the loss of tropical rainforests, we must not only be concerned with the transformation of existing natural ecosystems, but also with the more rational utilization of already cleared and degraded areas. To lessen future forest loss we must increase and sustain the productivity of farms, pastures, plantations, and scrub land in addition to restoring species and ecosystems to degraded habitats. By reducing wasteful land-use practices, consolidating gains on existing cleared lands, and improving already developed lands we can diminish the need to clear additional rainforest.


Increasing productivity of cleared rainforest lands is possible using improved technology to generate higher yielding crops. Taking advantage of improved germ plasm developed through careful selection can produce grasses and crops that will grow on degraded forest soils. While technology may have accelerated the development and impoverishment of tropical rainforests, it will be one of the keys to saving them.

Degraded land news feed


There is still time to save some of the most threatened species and ecosystems that have been pushed so close to extinction that they will perish unless we intervene. We can make a positive difference in preserving a species that mankind has practically destroyed. One of the most heart-warming examples is the story of the Mauritius kestrel. However, saving a single species takes incredible time and resources and can hardly be a practical solution. Instead the concentration must be on saving and restoring entire ecosystems.

The restoration of entire ecosystems is most possible in regions where parts or at least remnants of the original forest still remain and there are few human population pressures. Small clearings surrounded by forest recover quickly and large sections may recover in time, especially if we provide some assistance in the reforestation process. After several years, a once-barren field can again support vegetation in the form of pioneer species and secondary growth. Although the secondary forest will be low in diversity and poorly developed, the forest cover will be adequate for some species to return (assuming they still exist). In addition, the newly forested patch can be used for the sustainable harvest of forest products and low-intensity logging.

Tracts of replanted forest may have ecological returns in addition to economic ones. In the short term, forests absorb large amounts of atmospheric carbon and the more trees that are replanted, the more atmospheric carbon will be sequestered. Replanting and rehabilitating secondary forests around the world has tremendous potential for offsetting greenhouse-gas emissions. One such project, known as INFAPRO, has been established in Malaysia in a cooperative venture between the FACE Foundation (Forest Absorbing Carbon Emissions) and the Innoprise Corporation. The objective of the project is to rehabilitate 61,000 acres (25,000 ha) of logged rainforest over 25 years using dipterocarps, forest fruit, and pioneer trees. The project uses the technique of enrichment planting where seedlings are planted in the understory of degraded forest and given preferential treatment to ensure growth.


This image shows a small deforested patch with individual trees, colored by height. The densest biomass is red, while deforested areas — with low biomass — are shades of blue. Image courtesy of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory. Click picture for more information.

Prioritizing Areas for Conservation

The third part to resolving the deforestation problem is setting aside land for conservation. As this site has tried to make clear, conservation will not work without consideration for economic realities. The fate of parks and reserves rests largely in the hands of local people and only by improving their living conditions can saving rainforests through any sort of protected-areas system be addressed. Studies have shown that deforestation and encroachment on parklands generally diminish as the quality of life improves. The previous sections have discussed the means by which we can hope to elevate living conditions of local people. This final section focuses on the mechanisms through which we can preserve some remaining areas of forest. There are two main components: (1) prioritizing, through research and valuation, what areas to conserve, and (2) organizing the conservation effort.



Despite growing interest and intensive study on tropical rainforests, much still is unknown about the species it holds, the complex interactions between these species, the effect of the loss of particular species, and the entire role of the ecosystem. As these forests vanish, in-depth study will be required to maintain the maximum diversity and sustainable yield. In addition, research will be required to determine the optimum size and location of reserves in order to ensure the least loss of species

At the least, further research is necessary to prove the economic value of forests in order to make cases against short-sighted development plans. Research can also provide insights on how to make the sustainable collection of forest products more efficient and uncover new exploitable sources for food, medicine, and other needs.


More than 95 percent of the species on earth remain undescribed at best, unknown in most cases. Of the estimated 5-50 million species only 1.8 have been documented; however of these, many are known only by their scientific name, a few details about their origins, and maybe several facts about their life histories. At the rate that we are describing species, it would take some 4,000 years to describe all that exist in the world today. The larger, more conspicuous species, like birds and mammals, have been mostly documented, although every couple of years a new mammal species is discovered (about a dozen lemur species since 1986, and four new primate species in Brazil since 1990), and an average of two to three bird species are found annually. A worldwide species survey would be beneficial.

Examples of New Species Discovery
Every year scientists stumble across species previously unknown to science. Some examples:

The purpose of these surveys is to determine where "hot spots" may exist. These are places with a great diversity of species, many of which are endemic or found nowhere else. Currently there are several general levels of survey including rapid-assessment programs (RAP) and more long-term projects. The rapid-assessment program was created by Conservation International in an effort to investigate poorly known areas that may be "hot spots." The targeted area is usually relatively small in area and may be immediately threatened by development. The examining team focuses on certain well-known groups like mammals, reptiles, and birds, and based on the diversity and endemicism, decides whether the region is unique enough to be saved. If they judge it to be, the RAP makes its recommendations to the government and ideally the area is set aside as a reserve. Other surveys, conducted over much longer periods and larger areas, are designed to learn more about the ecosystem and determine how it should be best used. Often these areas may contain multiple "hot spots" and may not be immediately threatened by development. The model for such projects is Costa Rica's INBio, Institute of Biodiversity, which aims to account for all plants and animals of the country and to use the information to improve the environment and economy. In 1999, an ambitious expedition lead by conservation biologist Michael Fay set off on foot to survey forest from the Central African Republic across Congo to the coast of Gabon. Exactly 455 days and 2,000 km later, Fay completed the most extensive inventory of the Congo Basin ever made. Data from the "metatransect" was used by three African governments to designate conservation priorities and served as the basis for Gabon's new park system.


Besides species surveys, accurate and objective assays are needed to assess the various environmental conditions pertaining to the rainforest. Annual forest cover, deforestation rates, climate change, siltation, urban growth and encroaching development, erosion, pollution, and other trends need be recorded to establish baselines to properly assess the situation. The good news is there are a number of government and private sector Earth observation programs. The best known of these is Landsat, which is run by NASA. Google has helped popularize Landsat images by making them easily accessible via Google Earth.

Remote sensing and conservation news feed


Lowland rainforest in Borneo. Click image for more rainforest photos. (Photo by R. Butler)

Determining Rainforest Reserve Placement

After taking note of high-diversity areas and species at greatest risk of extinction, park planners must consider other factors before designating a protected area. It is always important to monitor human use of forest lands before the designation of a national park. The presence of trails, the location of current and predicted human settlement, and land and resource use are all consequential in determining whether the forest land is suitable for protection. If local people are unhappy with restricted access to parklands, chances are they will not respect park boundaries. Along these same lines, planners generally attempt to measure the economic potential of natural forest management of the area as an alternative to deforestation. Also of great importance is the spatial distribution and quality of habitat, Clearly, when given a choice between degraded and natural habitat, it is better to protect the higher-quality area. Researchers also look at species distributions when determining what areas to declare off-limits.


Studies of isolated forest reserves have shown (Lovejoy experiment, Barro Colorado Island, and others) that it will not be possible to conserve all or even some of their species diversity, genetic resources, and ecological processes. Therefore approaches to that link protected areas to surrounding lands (buffer zones) are necessary. Land management must not be only planned for the reserve, but also the land surrounding it. If the land around a reserve is stripped or sanctioned for exclusive use by a corporation, locals will have no choice but to seek out game, fuelwood, and more fertile soils in the reserve. Therefore it is essential that protected areas to accommodate the local populations. The best approach for accommodation is to design and manage a range of protected areas, known as a multiple-use reserve.

A multiple-use reserve consists of several zones with varying degree of human occupation. The outermost zones, known as buffer zones, are areas to be used sustainably by the inhabitants. Here they can harvest (ideally in a sustainable manner) fuelwood, animals, and native plants and practice a degree of small-scale agriculture. The outermost zone could be the site of commercial activities like low-impact logging. The area beyond the buffer zone can serve as the site of reforestation projects with seeds and seedlings provided from the reserve. Eventually the outer regions could again support forest and the expanded area could be used for further sustainable practices. The inner zones could be set aside for Indigenous peoples, who could continue their traditional way of life, without interference from outsiders, should they so choose. Also in this zone could be an area for forest-friendly eco-tourism with Indigenous peoples and members of local communities serving as guides. Access to the core area could be restricted to all but research scientists. The core area would only make up a small portion of the total protected area, but be placed so as to protect the forest's "hot-spots."

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has devised eight categories of protected area, in order to protect biodiversity, yet contribute to sustainable development. These follow a structure like the one mentioned above with buffer zones around the park slated for partial development and two small, strictly protected categories (I and II) set aside for research only. Such a core area is exemplified by Manu National Park in the Manu Biosphere Reserve which serves as a reserve base for scientists and as a storehouse for information on the rich biodiversity of the Amazon Basin. In the surrounding buffer zones are areas for tourist activities and local use.


Sign warning that a tree is spiked with metal to discourage logging in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Click image for more pictures of West Kalimantan. (Photo by R. Butler)

What's the Best Size for a Forest Reserve?

As forests are set aside as reserves, usually in the regions of the highest diversity, the question of reserve size comes into play. Obviously as much land as possible should be protected to some degree, but whether to keep a single large reservoir or several small reserves has been a controversial issue in conservation biology over the past two decades. Bitter fighting between the two camps in the SLOSS debate (single large or several small) has resulted in squandered time, money, resources, and credibility, and has divided groups that should be united in saving the planet's environment. A single large reserve is advantageous because it possesses larger populations of each species and a more stable environment. On the other hand, a single large reserve is subject to devastation by a single catastrophic event like a fire, flood, or disease. Breaking the reserve into separate pieces reduces the risk of complete population loss by a single event, but diminishes the size of the species populations and puts them at a higher risk of extinction. In addition, if the reserve is too small it may experience system decay resulting in the loss of many species. Small reserves are particularly affected by the invasion of alien species. Studies have shown that domestic mammals will venture up to three miles (5 km) into the rainforest, not only introducing disease and alien plant seeds, but also eating eggs, destroying nests, and crushing seedlings. Finally many species require a certain threshold-population size or range to persist.

Large reserves protect a larger area (Species—Area Math), including varied habitats, like eco-tones, forest edges, interior clearings, swamps, and ridges, which mean more niches, and hence greater diversity. It is important to preserve such zones, which both provide for and produce biodiversity.

Several studies have demonstrated the effects from a reduction in reserve size, including two famous projects in Latin America: Barro Colorado Island, Panama, and Thomas Lovejoy's experiment in the Brazilian Amazon (Are Forest Fragments Worth Saving?).

Barro Colorado Island was once a forested hilltop amid a rich tropical rainforest. When the Panama Canal was constructed, the Chagres river was dammed and the valley was flooded, leaving the hilltop an island of six square miles of forest. Barro Colorado Island was declared a biological reserve in 1923 and since has been the center of intensive research (since 1946 the island has been a research site run by the Smithsonian Institution). Over the last seven decades, researchers have recorded profound changes in the animal population. Large predators like the jaguar, puma, and harpy eagle were the first to go. Without large predators, mammals like pacas, agoutis, peccaries, and coatimundis populations skyrocketed to levels 2-10 times their normal concentration. However, by 1970, 45 birds species had disappeared due to the increased omnivore population, the loss of niches like meadows and forest edges, and the loss of area. Today toll has climbed to 65 bird species lost since the island's formation. Similar results have been recorded on islands created by hydroelectric projects in Thailand (Chiew Larn Hydroelectric Reservoir) and Venezuela (a reservoir created by the Guri dam).

To avoid further conflicts and help mitigate the problems with reserve size, some biologists have suggested a compromise solution, which is to create a series of small reserves connected by corridors of forest. This set-up would allow migration between the sections, but help protect against a mass die-off caused by a single event. Corridors are especially important should global warming occur, since species must be able to migrate as the climate changes. But more research is required to find the optimal reserve size and layout for sustaining the most biodiversity.

Fragmentation news feed


Sign warning that a tree is spiked with metal to discourage logging in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Click image for more pictures of West Kalimantan. (Photo by R. Butler)

Funding Rainforest Conservation

For most of the past century, governments and industry have failed to recognize that tropical rainforests are worth much more than the attractive hardwood timber they contain. They failed to take account of the intricate role rainforests play in hydrological, biological, geochemical, and climatological functioning on Earth. Because all the benefits provided by forests cannot be directly measured and captured, the market under-provides for, hence undervalues, rainforests. True economic analysis should take these indirect values and this economic distortion into account.

Companies that destroy the rainforest should be required to make bioeconomic and cost-benefit analysis a mandatory part of their land-survey routine. Genuine bioeconomic analysis will survey all relevant opportunity costs and determine the presence of species with value as pharmaceutical, food, and other products useful to humankind. In addition, bioeconomic analysis can predict the potential for eco-tourism and ideally, make some assessment for the services (like climate stabilization, recreation value, soil protection, and clean water) a forest area provides. By accounting for these benefits it will help guard against the uninformed destruction of species. Globally, ecosystems and the services they provide are estimated to be worth $33 trillion, according to research conducted by Robert Costanza in the 1990s. The biodiversity of tropical rainforests can provide material benefits beyond simple value as forest products. For example, in the late 1970s, Malaysia imported weevils from Cameroon to pollinate oil-palm plantations, in 1981 saving $120 million in labor costs from hand pollination. Finding this cost-saving species was straightforward: weevils are the natural pollinators of oil palm, which originated in the rainforests of Central Africa. Once a bioeconomic analysis is complete, the decision can be made on how to best use the forests; whether to protect them using their sustainable yield or to destroy them for immediate return and accept the long-term effects.

Some environmentalists say that putting a dollar value on the resource is not the proper way to approach conservation, since ecosystems have intrinsic and aesthetic values that transcend economic value. They worry that saying a square kilometer of Malaysian mangrove forest has a value of $300,000 in flood control alone will justify developers offering $310,000 for the land and turning it into a shopping complex. However, it is clear that money is a prime consideration in today's global economy, and putting monetary value on an ecosystem, even if it is undervalued, provides strong a strong and universally understood argument about the value of protecting biodiversity and the ecosystem.

Even cost-benefit analysis often underestimates the value of the species and ecosystem by failing to factor in the unknown benefits. Bioeconomic analysis may be able to valuate rainforest lands by eco-tourism potential, known, and even some unknown products, but it can hardly account for the services that the rainforest ecosystem performs or the value of unknown biodiversity. How much is a stable climate worth? What would a country pay for clean water or navigable waterways? At what cost should global warming and polar ice melt be avoided? How about functioning hydroelectric projects, working fisheries, and avoiding cycles of flood and drought? These are some items on a long list of services which rainforests provide humanity.

Dismantling rainforests for timber, pasture land, pulp for paper, and palm oil is not maximizing their potential yield: it is like smashing an ancient Roman vase to reach the quarter that fell inside. Razing rainforests for just these simple commodities is a colossal waste of their resources.


Borneo. Click image for more pictures of Borneo. (Photo by R. Butler)

Funding rainforest conservation

Now that we have prioritized what forest areas should be set aside for reserves, we must focus on implementation and management of these protected areas. Clearly all three steps will require a broad spectrum of participants, from local farmers to CEOs of multinational corporations to high-ranking government officials. Without cooperation, any protected-areas system is destined to fail.


Reserves are expensive to establish and maintain, as is forest management. In the 1990s, the U.N. FAO estimated that the forestry sector was funded only 27 percent of what it requires, while the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (1992) estimated the cost of protecting tropical forests through sustainable development at $30 billion per year (a number that has roughly doubled today). The countries in which reserves and forest management are most needed often have neither the money nor the interest in funding these projects. Other priorities — ranging from growing the economy to improving health care access to providing education — win out over forests. Yet innovative models are showing that forest conservation need not be separate from other initiatives. In fact protecting forests can go hand-in-hand with economic growth and poverty alleviation.


Debt Exchange

One method of financing conservation projects in developing countries is debt-for-nature programs where conservation and other international organizations purchase a portion of a developing country's commercial debt at a discount, or else persuade creditor banks to donate some of debt. Foreign debt can be purchased at 50 to 90 percent of its actual value and sometimes far less. For example the non-profit organization Conservation International purchased $650,000 worth of Bolivian debt for only $100,000 when it initiated the first debt-exchange program in 1987. In exchange for being relieved of the obligation to repay a portion of international debt, the country agrees to set aside funds to promote conservation by encouraging sustainable development, expanding environmental education programs, purchasing land, and improving land management. Within a decade of the first agreement, debt-for-nature agreements totaling nearly US$1 billion had been arranged in sixteen countries including the tropically forested countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Madagascar, Philippines, Venezuela, and Zambia.

In 1998, Congress approved a bill that authorized more funding for debt-for-nature swaps. Under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, the U.S. reduces or forgives debt owed the U.S. by developing countries in exchange for establishing forestry funds to be used for conservation and promoting economic reform. The act mandates that projects be carried out at the local level by NGOs, community organizations, and Indigenous organizations. By 2011, debt-for-nature swaps under the TFCA had generated more than $250 million for forest conservation.

According to an analysis by the World Bank, while debt-for-nature agreements will never substantially reduce external debts of poor countries—which are far too large for such schemes— they can dramatically increase the amount of funds spent by the debtor country on environmental protection.

Possible Funding Strategies for the Future

There are other means that may prove useful in financing reserves, although they have not been developed to their fullest potential. Most of these are based on the concept that all nations should contribute to rainforest preservation since the effects of deforestation will impact everyone. Wealthy countries are expected to provide most of the funding. Some have suggested that money could come by reducing subsidies currently given to certain polluting and environmentally damaging industries, such as the fossil fuels and mining sectors.

Presently the most advanced program for funding rainforest conservation is called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation or REDD+. As a concept, REDD+ aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by paying tropical countries to protect their forests. While many of the details — including sources of finance, safeguards, and implementation protocols — are still being hammered out, a number of REDD+ projects are underway in countries ranging from Brazil to Cambodia. REDD+ has the potential to generate tens of billions of dollars annually for forest protection efforts.

Another approach that has been discussed is a "rainforest bond", which would be issued by a forest country and sold to investors. The bond would generate money upfront for conservation activities and would be paid back using revenue generated from environmental taxes, reduced impact logging, and payments for ecosystem services — including carbon sequestration and watershed services. Rainforest bonds have been advanced by Prince Charles' Rainforest Project as a mechanism for funding the early stages of the REDD+ program.


Secondary forest in Java, Indonesia. Click on image for more photos from Java. (Photo by R. Butler)

Organizing Rainforest Conservation Efforts

To best meet the complex requirements for rainforest conservation, it is imperative that we balance conservation efforts between the local, national, and international sectors. Empowerment over forests and their resources should begin on the local level of individual communities with municipal governments overseeing parks. State agencies—with guidance and assistance from intergovernmental institutions and non-government organizations (NGOs)— need to help formulate broader conservation strategies and provide expertise in protecting and managing protected areas. Partnerships between participants are necessary to fuse scientific, economic, and social information and formulate an overall plan for the use and conservation of tropical rainforests.

Today many government agencies responsible for biodiversity conservation in the developing world find themselves financially strained. In addition, in an era of increasing democratization, these organizations are under mounting pressure from locals demanding access to the large tracts of otherwise productive land held in socially exclusive reserves. To best address these financial and social pressures, other organizations—foreign governments, intergovernmental institutions, NGOs, and "green" groups—must step up and provide expertise and financial assistance. However, government agencies cannot expect to be bailed out completely. They will need to become more accountable to the needs of local people and to establish measurable objectives, which can be evaluated on a regular basis. In short, these agencies must increase their productivity and become accountable to their shareholders much like publicly traded companies.

Governmental Agencies and Policy

Until recently, most governments have sided with the interests of rapid forest exploitation using subsidies and economic incentives to accelerate the process and earn quick returns. The interests of the local people have been largely ignored, as have the environmental consequences. These methods are economically flawed because they fail to weigh the environmental costs of deforestation ranging from soil erosion to disruption of weather cycles, to drought and floods, to outbreaks of disease. For example, India estimates that it loses 10 percent of its annual income to environmental degradation, a significant portion of which results from deforestation-induced soil erosion. If governments starting treating their forests as depreciable natural capital instead of non-renewable income, they could better determine the costs of deforestation.

Some governments are now listening to scientists, economists, human-rights activists, Indigenous peoples, and environmentalists, and are adopting more responsible approaches of managing forests. Developed, industrialized nations see their chance to help the cause by donating financial support and technical expertise to help initiate new conservation policies.

Industrialized nations

Some governments are willing to make loans and even cancel debts owed by tropical nations in exchange for environmental protection (essentially debt-exchange programs). For example, the U.S. has canceled more than a quarter billion dollars of debt owed by tropical countries to fund forest conservation projects. In the 1990s, Germany cleared Kenya of its $400 million debt when the East African nation agreed to pass environmental legislation.

In the late 1990s, Germany was perhaps the biggest supporter of rainforest conservation among G-8 nations, with Chancellor Helmut Kohl demanding action by other wealthy countries to take action against deforestation. However since the late 2000s, Norway has emerged as the leader on rainforest conservation, pledging 3 billion krone ($500 million) a year to the effort, a sum disproportionate to the small Scandinavian country's size.

But assistance goes beyond financial. Industrialized nations have conservation expertise and technology that can improve reserve management and monitoring.


Borneo. Click image for more pictures of Borneo. (Photo by R. Butler)

How Tropical Nations Can Save Rainforests

Tropical nations are increasingly demonstrating leadership in safeguarding rainforests for future generations.

The push to compensate tropical countries for the carbon stored in their forests was borne out of an effort by the Coalition of Rainforest Nations during climate talks in Montreal in 2005. That eventually led to development of the REDD+ program.

Outside of REDD+, Brazil and Costa Rica are widely seen as leaders in rainforest conservation. After losing most of its forests to cattle ranchers and industrial agricultural, Costa Rica in the 1990s stepped up efforts to save its forests, bolstering its national park system and introducing a payments for ecosystem services program. Costa Rica has since transitioned from a country that loses forests to one that gains forest cover.

But even more impressive has been Brazil's push since 2004 to reduce deforestation in the Amazon. Supported by an advanced satellite-based deforestation monitoring system, Brazil in the late 2000s began to crack down on illegal deforesters while enacting policies to encourage less damaging agriculture and logging in the world's largest rainforest. The efforts appear to have paid off, with the rate of annual deforestation plunging nearly 80 percent between 2004 and 2012. Although other factors are believed to have contributed to the decline, direct government action is estimated to account for at least half the drop.

Deforestation also appears to be on a downward trend in the world's other big tropical deforester: Indonesia. In 2009 Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono commitment to reduce deforestation and peatlands degradation significantly by 2020 with or without international assistance. Norway followed up with a pledge to contribute up to a billion dollars toward cutting deforestation. A year later, Yudhoyono established a two-year moratorium on new concessions across 14.5 million hectares of peatlands and primary forest.

More broadly, there are several strategies for tropical nations to improve forest stewardship. Eliminating subsidies for activities that promote forest clearing and largely benefit wealthy interests would probably have the widest-ranging effect on curbing deforestation in the tropics. For example, ending subsidies for sawmills, road construction, large-scale colonization schemes, and expansive industrial agriculture projects would dramatically slow deforestation. Such large subsidies create a false image of profitability to industries that benefit from exploitation and undervalue the worth of timber supplies and intact ecosystems. Rarely do these firms have to pay the full costs, whether they be environmental, social, or financial. However these industries are entrenched and in many countries are a powerful political force. For example, Indonesian President Yudhoyono's efforts to establish a strong moratorium were effectively undermined by interests in the palm oil, timber, and paper and paper industries. Meanwhile the ruralistas in Brazil — a political bloc consisting of large-scale forest developers — in 2012 pushed through a revision of the country's Forest Code. Environmentalists fear those changes could reverse Brazil's recent progress in reducing deforestation.

Tropical country governments could significantly reduce deforestation by changing land-title procedures so deforestation is not favored over the maintenance of productive forest. Instead of giving tax breaks and subsidies to large-scale forest clearers, governments can levy a deforestation tax that would increase government revenues while reducing environmental degradation. Already several countries have such deforestation charges in place.


Corruption and illegal operations are quite costly for governments. The World Bank estimates that illegal logging alone costs developing countries some $15 billion a year in lost tax revenues.

Rooting out corruption and implementing the rule of law are key to conservation efforts as well as the general business environment in developing countries. Corrupt officials in forestry departments and other branches of law enforcement can easily undermine conservation efforts by granting parkland to unscrupulous developers and overlooking violations of environmental laws and safeguards.

Transparency in economic transactions and processes is key to reducing corruption in developing economies. Small steps such as publishing bids for contracts, clarifying ownership and the transfer of ownership, posting laws to allow citizens to better understand the economic and legal processes, and creating a forum for airing complaints can do a lot for building a fairer and less corrupt society.

Nine out of the world's ten most corrupt countries in 2005 were tropical developing countries. The list from Transparency International: (most corrupt) Bangladesh, Chad, Haiti, Myanmar, Turkmenistan, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Angola, and Democratic Republic of the Congo (tenth most corrupt).

Currently, few fines are collected and those that are collected sometimes never make it to the treasury. Salaries are so low in some countries that bribes are widely accepted by forestry officials. Beyond boosting salaries, governments can increase the effectiveness of forestry patrols by offering performance incentives to officials and returning proceeds from fines and seized goods to the forestry departments.

There are serious conflicts of interest within government departments in many developing countries. Environmental officials often lack coordination with officials from other departments like mines, forestry, and agriculture. Integrated policy approaches can help overcome the inefficiencies and failures of overlapping jurisdictions.

Developed countries are tired of the rhetoric from wealthy industrialized countries urging them to preserve forests but not offering up the cash to turn words into action. They argue thatif these forests provide important global benefits then the entire world should contribute to their preservation. Besides, they say, wealthy countries have already destroyed most of their own forests.


Rainforest in Uganda. Click image for more pictures of rainforests. (Photo by R. Butler)

Intergovernmental Institutions and Conservation

Until recently the concept of sustainable development was foreign to the principal organizations funding development projects, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The World Bank, a multilateral development bank that lends money to help countries develop economically through financing infrastructure and new industries, has historically funded numerous projects that resulted in the destruction of rainforests. The IMF shares a similar record.

The bank has traditionally funded "mega-projects" because they are easier to administer than a number of small projects. Because of the size of these projects, World Bank loans to developing countries are usually substantial, sometimes in the billion-dollar range, adding further debt pressure. In 1987 the bank granted loans exceeding US$15 billion to tropical countries. Some developing countries lack heavy-equipment industries, so a portion of the loan is often returned to the contributing countries in the form of payments for industrialized products and materials.

The influence of the World Bank is powerful, and other organizations follow its lead by sponsoring similarly destructive projects. The bank primarily used economic rate of return as its means of selecting projects, and virtually ignored the social and ecological costs. The result has been many socially and environmentally damaging projects like the Brazilian Tucuri Dam, which displaced 25,000 people and submerged 900 square miles of rainforest; the Polonoroeste road-building project, which promoted the colonization of the rainforests of Rondonia, Brazil, by one million peasant farmers; and the Indonesian transmigration program.

However, in recent years, the World Bank and such organizations have designed a number of useful and successful projects that are less damaging, while promoting economic returns as well. Today these institutions staff environmental consultants to raise concerns over the impacts of new projects.

The Global Environmental Facility (GEF), established in 1990 by the World Bank, UN Environmental Program, and UN Development program, has committed billions of dollars to setting up national parks, promoting sustainable forestry, and establishing conservation trust funds in developing countries. In 1994, the World Bank inspection panel was established as a independent body to create a legal mechanism for individuals and organizations whose interests are adversely affected by bank-backed projects. Through it, investigation can be conducted to correct mistakes and ensure that the bank enforces its own policies. The panel was put to the test for the first time in 1995, when Latin America challenged a World Bank project, Planafloro—a loan of US$167 million to Rondonia, Brazil. The challengers cited mismanagement and social/environmental degradation from a previous loan as their reason for submitting their claim. In 1996, the World Bank withheld a loan to Papua New Guinea after it failed to conform with its timber regulations (although the bank has since granted the loan). In 1999 the World Bank weakened the panel, but the same year the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) was established to address complaints by people affected by projects funded by the bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). In 2009 a complaint the the CAO led the IFC to halt lending to palm oil companies until safeguards were put into place.

The implementation of these reforms may prevent the bank from sponsoring further Tucuri-scale projects. The World Bank is increasingly funding small community projects that more directly benefit the local economy and are often less environmentally destructive. Because decisions are made on a local level, projects can be better adapted to local conditions.

In 2007 the World Bank launched the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) as a means to kick start the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) mechanism.


Dani man in Indonesian New Guinea. (Photo by R. Butler)

Grassroots Movements in Rainforest Conservation

Non-governmental organizations are a driving force behind conservation efforts today. These non-profit groups fund and support all aspects of conservation from initial research to protected-area initiatives to implementation through park management and community-based conservation schemes to alliance building between government agencies and private interests. They support and coordinate grassroots movements, promote communication between all parties, and sponsor education initiatives in both developing and developed countries.

Grassroots Movements

With the recent worldwide trend of governmental decentralization, control of forest resources is increasingly turned over to local governments and non-governmental agencies. One result from decentralization is that forestry decisions can be made on a local level, more in relation to local conditions and the benefit of local peoples. In recent years, numerous local groups have assumed the role of promoting local sustainable use that more directly benefits those living in and around the forests.

Local grassroots movements, where they exist, are often the most successful form of action. These movements are sometimes able to create enough of a disturbance to delay loggers and developers from exploiting forest lands valued by local people. Grassroots movements usually result from new or increased presence of pressures on the forest from commercial interests. These movements put up protests, work to reform local laws and education, and are quite often the site for innovation and experimentation for new ideas in forest conservation.

Provided they have adequate resources, small grassroots projects can have a higher likelihood of success than foreign conservation projects directed from a distance. There is good reason for this success, since local organizations are better able to weave conservation projects into the local fabric of life, and their projects tend to be substantially smaller. These small projects can serve models for the larger national and international projects. Before adopting a conservation or land-management plan, it should be proven on a local level.

In some countries, these small movements were sometimes brutally suppressed by governments, but that is changing as grassroots efforts spread around the globe. In the 1980s the rubber tappers of Brazil became one of the best known movements. They successfully campaigned to win title to forest lands in the form of "extractive reserves" — protected areas where forest products are sustainably harvested by local communities. Another well-known initiative was led by the late Wangari Maathai, who was the first African woman awarded the Nobel Prize for her efforts. Her Greenbelt Movement led to the planting of hundreds of millions of trees around the globe.


Bukit Tigapuluh rainforest in Sumatra, Indonesia. (Photo by R. Butler)

The Role of Communication and Education in Saving Rainforests

One of the most essential parts of saving the world's rainforests is keeping an open line of communication between all parties. Communication from all parties, including Indigenous peoples, local populations, business interests, governments, scientists, and conservationists, is key to understanding how to best approach balancing conservation with development. The information gained from conferences can be used to help devise a plan that will be acceptable to all parties. No group should be excluded or misrepresented and every effort should be made to keep conferences open and non-threatening. Conferences should meet regularly and have some legislative muscle so that decisions can be implemented. So far no such ideal conference has taken place, but in all fairness the whole rainforest conservation issue is relatively recent as a worldwide concept.

The conferences that have met to date have brought up important issues, but their decisions tend to lack power and usually go unimplemented. The largest environmental conference took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and was host to some 100 heads of state, the largest gathering of such officials ever.

Since Rio, there have been countless conferences which have discussed environmental issues. In 1995 the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development (WCFSD) met in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), aiming to raise the level of understanding of rainforests' dual role in preserving natural environment and contributing to sustainable development. The conference recognized the need for policy reform together with renewed efforts to enforce existing regulations to stop deforestation. It promised more local community involvement in forest conservation and management and placed special emphasis on reconciling conflicts between factions with different views on forest use. The conference discussed better definition of land titles for local communities and various financial mechanisms for ensuring more equal distribution of forests' benefits and revenues. This conference serves as an example of what conservation conferences propose and how little things actually change afterwards.


Education is one of the most important ingredients in saving the rainforests. Unfortunately, environmental education is not a high priority in many countries with tropical rainforests.

Education can provide the next generation with lessons not learned in the past: that rainforests are worth saving. With this information, children will be more aware of the problems they may face in the future when they become leaders.


Rainbow over the Borneo rainforest. (Photo by R. Butler)

What an Individual Can Do to Help Save the Rainforest

NGOs promote the role of the ordinary individual in conservation efforts. Recent surveys have suggested that the American public is interested in conservation efforts both on a local and an international level. So the will exists; it is only a matter of taking action.

Purchasing and consumption

People in developed countries stimulate the unsustainable harvesting of tropical timbers by demanding such wood products. Try to buy wood products that come from sustainably managed stocks (having a legitimate seal of approval) or non-rainforest woods. Though not as much of a problem now, in the 1980s people in developed countries may have contributed indirectly to rainforest destruction by demanding cheap beef products (the "U.S.-Central American connection") and livestock feed (the "Europe-Southeast Asia connection") in the form of cassava grown on former forest lands. Today palm oil, which is found in a wide range of processed foods and beauty products, is a major driver of deforestation in Southeast Asia. Don't buy products containing palm oil unless you know it has been sourced responsibly. At present, less damaging palm oil is certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Be ecologically aware when you purchase products.

Support sustainably harvested forest products like nuts and natural dyes and the organizations that provide these goods. Without consumer demand, these products will not be produced.

Always try to reduce power and water usage. Americans use more resources per capita than any other large. Much of the electricity we use is fueled by the burning coal and gasoline, which contribute the climate change. Recycle and reuse as many materials as possible.

Things you can do to help save rainforests

  • Don't buy products made from wildlife skins
  • Don't buy exotic pets that have been collected from the wild. You can ask pet stores whether animals are "wild-caught" or "captive bred." "Captive-bred" animals are more friendly for the environment
  • Buy recycled paper. Reduce consumption of all paper products.
  • Don't buy rainforest wood products unless you know they come from eco-friendly suppliers. A good way to know if wood is less damaging for the environment is if it has a "certification label." The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an example of a certification label body that sets social and environmental criteria for producing wood and paper products from forests.
  • Learn more about rainforests and the plants and animals that live in them. Tell others why rainforests are important.


Many conservation and consumer groups maintain that lack of information is one of the greatest hindrances to eco-friendly consumption. Stay informed and be aware of newly threatened areas and new developments in conservation methods, along with campaigns against forest destroyers. Numerous resources exist on the Internet and in print.


If you have the ability to travel abroad, practice eco-tourism and support eco-friendly travel in areas that are environmentally sensitive. Just because a tour is advertised as "eco-tourism" it does not mean that it is environmentally sound. Ask around and try to find those operators who are legitimate. When traveling, try to be a responsible tourist and respect local customs.

Discourage the killing of endangered animals and rainforest species by refusing to buy products made up of or containing such parts. Gently tell locals that you would rather see the colorful macaws flying in the sky than having their feathers on your souvenir.


Write to your government representatives and let them know how your feel about environmental issues. Express your concern for the future of tropical rainforests.

Join a biodiversity conservation group or rainforest organization and support campaigns and boycotts against companies responsible for reckless deforestation. If you resolve never to purchase goods from one of these firms, the company loses tens of thousands of dollars of potential revenue over the course of a life time.


Lowland forest near the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Malaysia. (Photo by R. Butler)

International Rainforest Conservation Organizations

Today international conservation organizations serve as environmental consultants for governments and large corporations interested in reducing pollution, setting aside protected areas, and conserving biodiversity. These organizations act as mediators between various development interests, policy makers, local peoples, scientists, and activist groups in promoting conservation. These organizations initiate and support a broad range of conservation-related activities, from arranging international conferences to establishing community-based conservation projects to maintaining parks and reserves. Keeping attuned to economic realities, they work to integrate the latest scientific findings into preservation efforts.

Activist Groups

Activist groups, like the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Union of Concerned Scientists, and Greenpeace are publicists and sponsors of rainforest preservation. They are watchdogs of projects that impact the rainforest, and they spread the the word to other organizations, peoples, and governments. They initiate campaigns against large corporations and governments responsible for deforestation and encourage consumers to boycott their products. Pressure against these companies from environmental organizations, coupled with boycotts, will often sway the firm to adopt more ecologically sound methods or abandon plans to clear forest lands for production. While critics argue that successful boycotts in the North only lead to trade diversion to markets that remain open, their campaigns draw public attention to deforestation and increase industry's sensitivity to rainforest issues.

Rainforest Funders

Outside of governments and the general public, substantial amounts of funding for rainforest conservation funding come from private foundations usually started by wealthy individuals.


Oscar Mishaja, rainforest guide in the Tambopata region. (Photo by R. Butler)

Indigenous Peoples' Role in Rainforest Conservation

Tropical forests have been inhabited by humans for tens of thousands of years, and human activities on a traditional scale may actually help promote forest diversity. Traditionally forest-dependent indigenous peoples have rarely over-exploited the resource that provides them with their livelihood, and they carefully practice rotational farming and sustainably harvest forest products and game. Yet these Indigenous peoples often take the brunt of the blame for the destruction of the rainforests. Creating reserves has sometimes evicted these traditional peoples from their lands and in some places national park rangers unfairly restrict their activities. Less so today, but frequently in the past, tribal peoples were disregarded when national government granted concessions to foreign oil, mining, and logging firms on their traditional lands. Indigenous people have missed out on most of the benefits garnered by forest developers.

Indigenous people have intimate knowledge and perspectives of the forest ecosystem around them. Instead of looking as them with condescension, scientists, environmentalists, and conservationists must come to view Indigenous people as an asset to forest use and conservation.


Rainforest in West Papua, Indonesian New Guinea. (Photo by R. Butler)

Saving Tropical Rainforests

Simply banning the timber trade or establishing reserves will not be enough to salvage the world's remaining tropical rainforests. In order for the forests to be preserved, the underlying social, economic, and political reasons for deforestation must be recognized and addressed. Once the issues are brought into the light, the decision can be made about what should be done. If it is decided that rainforests must be saved, then the creation of multi-use reserves that promote sustainable development and education of local peoples would be a good place to start. Currently about 6 percent of the world's remaining forests are protected, meaning that over 90 percent are still open for the taking. However, even this 6 percent is not safe if the proper steps towards sustainable development are not taken. Where possible, reforestation and restoration projects should be encouraged if we, humanity, hope to emerge from the current environmental situation without serious, long-term consequences.

By the year 2050 the population of Earth will likely stand between 9 and 10 billion people. The population increase in the 1990s alone dwarfed the entire population of the world in 1600. Though live births per woman have dropped significantly in the past 50 years, the sheer number of children now in pre-reproductive age guarantees a substantial increase in population for the next two generations regardless of the birth rate.

This tremendous population increase logically leads to the question of how many people can Earth sustain indefinitely? The exact number is unknown; estimates range from 2-16 billion. With the limited resources (water, soil, clean air) of the planet, the number depends on the quality of life future generations are willing to accept.

With current levels of consumption and waste, it may not be possible for generations of the future to attain the lifestyle of Americans today. As a nation, Americans consume more than any society in history. For the people of developing countries to attain the American standard of living we would need the equivalent of another three planet Earths to accommodate their needs.

The signs that overpopulation is negatively impacting the world's living environment are everywhere. Agricultural production reached record levels in 1998, but per capita production has been falling since 1985. All of the ocean fisheries of the world are exploited beyond their capacity and the annual world fish catch has leveled off after growing five-fold from 1950 to 1990. Ground-water supplies are drying up: Bangkok is pumping so much water out of the ground that the city of seven million is sinking 14 times faster than Venice. Above ground, humanity is appropriating more than 50 percent of accessible water runoff, while we are using 40 percent of the world's net primary production. Worldwide erosion of precious topsoil is seriously impacting agriculture and causing more than $6 billion in damage to hydroelectric installations and irrigation systems every year. More people live in dire poverty than ever before despite gains in the standard of living among those in wealthy countries and some in developing countries. Global climate change threatens to drastically alter weather and rainfall patterns and cause a rise in sea level that could engulf island nations.

Many argue there is a technological fix for every problem facing humanity: to improve agriculture, use genetic engineering to boost crop yields and enable crops to grow on increasingly marginal land; to end world hunger, convert nitrogenased petroleum to food and improve freshwater aquaculture; to solve water woes, tow icebergs from the poles to coastal cities; to save biodiversity, create genetic libraries of species as they disappear; to eliminate Cold War radioactive sludge, engineer waste-eating bacteria; to solve fuel problems, generate endless supplies of clean energy with cold fusion; to solve climate change, engineer the atmosphere and oceans. Governments, venture capitalists, and stock markets will fund these endeavors to support or profit from the effort to starve off environmental and social calamity, proponents say.

Even if these hopeful long-shot schemes are successful, they will be incredibly expensive to implement and maintain. Take the simple case of fuelwood: the UN estimates that the cost of establishing fuelwood plantations to replace harvesting from natural forests is $12 billion per year. The cost of replacing watershed forests, which insure the flow of clean, fresh water to cities, with desalination plants would be in the hundreds of millions to billions of dollars for each large city. The cost of maintaining the forests as intact ecosystems to provide this service, in additions to others, is less than one-tenth of this cost.

There was an attempt to create a replica of Earth systems with the construction of Biosphere II in early 1990 in the desert of Arizona. This $200 million project was an elaborate experiment to see if man could recreate a miniature Earth using technology based on our best understanding of biological systems. The 3.15-acre (1.25-ha) enclosure was stocked with soil, air, water, and fragments of various ecosystems (coral reef, desert, wetland, savanna, pond, scrubland, ocean, and rainforest) including natural flora and fauna. On Sept. 26, 1991, eight scientists sealed themselves into the compound for a two-year stay. Within five months the atmospheric oxygen content of Biosphere II dropped from 21 percent to 14 percent, while carbon-dioxide and nitrous-oxide levels rose dangerously despite a sophisticated recycling system. Oxygen had to be pumped in to sustain Biosphere II. The scientists managed to stay in Biosphere II the full two years; however the other residents were not so lucky. By the time the seal was broken, 19 of 25 vertebrate species were extinct along with all the pollinators. The populations of "weedier" species like vines, cockroaches, and ants had exploded. Despite the failure of the project to sustain the scientists independently of Earth, an important lesson was learned; man has a long way to go before we are able to recreate viable ecosystems.

The evidence suggests we are rapidly approaching a severe environmental and population bottleneck. It is time to consider whether we want to bet on safe passage through this bottleneck despite the ruinously high stakes for humanity and the life we prefer. In the past, magnificent civilizations—the Egyptians, Romans, Easter Islanders, Mayans—have fallen as their populations exceeded the biological carrying capacity of their local environments. Maybe this time around it will be different because of our superior technology. Besides we learn from our mistakes, right?

E.O. Wilson asks if it is worth the wager. He argues that it is best to err on the side of caution; a false positive diagnosis is an inconvenience, but a false negative diagnosis can be catastrophic. Imagine a person who receives a false negative on an AIDS test. The person could spread the virus to numerous others, falsely believing he or she was uninfected. By allowing environmental destruction and rampant population growth to continue, humanity is "effectively saying we are totally certain that future generations can manage without many if not most of the [environmental] benefits we enjoy today."

Saving the forests, oceans, wetlands, deserts, and tundra of the world may require a fundamental change in the way we humans see the world around us. It is our underlying philosophy, one that has been conditioned since birth, that has turned so many of Earth's unique ecosystems into places in peril today.

As much as we may want to believe it, man is not apart from nature. We are not exempt from the laws of nature nor the sole heir of all the precious resources of this planet. Our place in the universe is not to conquer Earth and cultivate the entire planet to suit our needs, while extinguishing those species that do not directly benefit us.

It is not important whether you consider man divinely inspired, or a small cog in the Gaia (Mother Earth) system, or merely a territorial primate species that evolved to the point where it could develop technology to dominate all other species. What is imperative to our species and all other species is biological diversity. This biodiversity crisis that we are facing today transcends religions, though traditional religions, both tribal and institutional, lend support to the preservation of biodiversity.

What makes life on Earth livable for our species is biodiversity—from tigers in Bhutan to gila monsters in the United States to horned beetles in Africa to the goldfish in your home to tube worms in hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean to sea cucumbers living on the coral reefs of Madagascar to the mites on your cheese. By extinguishing hotbeds of biodiversity—rainforests, wetlands, coral reefs, and grasslands—we are destroying a part of ourselves. Biodiversity will recover after humanity is gone, but in the meantime, the continuing loss of our fellow species will make Earth an awfully crowded, but lonely, place.

Past extinctions have shown it takes at least 5 million years to restore biodiversity to the level equal to that before the extinction event event. Our actions today will determine whether Earth will be biologically impoverished for the 500 trillion or more humans that will inhabit the Earth during that future period.

The extinction event that is occurring as you read these words rivals the extinctions caused by natural disasters of global ice ages, planetary collisions, atmospheric poisoning, and variations in solar radiation. The difference is that this extinction was conceived by humans and subject to human decisions. We are the last, best hope for life as we prefer it on this planet.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: Parts of this conclusion draws from E.O. Wilson's Consilience—Random House 1999]



Review questions - Part I

  • How should rainforests be protected?
  • How can we save rainforests?
  • Why is saving tropical rainforests a challenge?
  • Why do national parks often fail to protect rainforests?
  • Why is economics important in conservation?

Review questions - Part II

  • Why are agriculture techniques important to the future of rainforests?
  • What can we learn from past cultures about agriculture in the Amazon?

Review questions - Part III

  • How can people living near the rainforest earn a living without logging?
  • What are some examples of non-wood forest products that can be sustainably harvested from the rainforest?
  • How can the harvesting of non-wood forest products damage the rainforest ecosystem?

Review questions - Part IV

  • How can ecotourism help the environment?

Review questions - Part V

  • Why is it important to promote sustainable use of forest resources?
  • Why are extractive industries like logging generally not the best for long-term economic growth?

Review questions - Part VI

  • Why is genetic diversity important for agriculture?

Review questions - Part VII

  • Why are plants a good source for medicines?
  • What is biopiracy?
  • Why are plants a good potential source for natural pesticides?

Review questions - Part IX

  • Why is illegal logging a problem for governments?
  • What is sustainable forestry? Can logging be sustainable?
  • How does timber certification work?
  • How can Western consumers help encourage eco-friendly logging?
  • How do subsidies drive deforestation?
  • What are some ways to reduce the impact of logging in the rainforest?
  • What are alternatives to rainforest wood?
  • Why is illegal logging a problem for governments?

Review questions - Part XII

  • Why is cattle grazing popular in the Amazon?
  • What is intercropping?
  • How can the impact of cattle be minimized in the rainforest?

Review questions - Part XIII

  • What are some alternative sources of energy beyond oil, gas, and coal?
  • Why can palm biodiesel be damaging to the rainforest?

Review questions - Part XIV

  • Why is increasing productivity on deforested lands important for rainforest conservation?
  • How do birds and bats help in habitat rainforest regeneration?

Review questions - Part XV

  • Why is it important to conduct species inventories in tropical forests?
  • How can satellites help in rainforest conservation?

Review questions - Part XVI

  • What is a multiple-use reserve and how does it help save rainforests while providing economic benefits to local people?

Review questions - Part XVII

  • How does reserve size or area impact levels of biodiversity?

Review questions - Part XVIII

  • How can pollution by wealthy countries be used to protect rainforests in poor countries?
  • What is a debt-for-nature swap?

Review questions - Part XIX

  • Why do government agencies responsible for biodiversity conservation in the developing nations need reform?

Review questions - Part XX

  • How do subsidies drive deforestation?
  • Why is corruption bad for conservation?

Review questions - Part XXI

  • Why were past World Bank projects often destructive?
  • How has the World Bank changed its approach towards the environment?

Review questions - Part XXII

  • Why are grassroots movements often successful in conservation efforts?

Review questions - Part XXIV

  • Does pressure from activist groups work?

Review questions - Part XXV

  • What can we learn from Indigenous people about rainforest conservation?

Review questions - Part II

  • How can I help save the rainforest?



Citations - Part I

  • The quotation at the beginning of the chapter is taken from Schaller, G.B., "Tibet's Hidden Wilderness : Wildlife and Nomads of the Chang Tang Reserve," New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998.
  • Statistics for rainforest cover and deforestation during the 1980s comes from State of the World's Forests 1999 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Myers, N. "Nature's Greatest Heritage Under Threat," Rainforests-The Illustrated Library of the Earth, Norman Myers, ed., Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1993.

  • The background for agriculture in the tropical rainforest draws heavily from T. Nishizawa and J. I. Uitto, eds. (The Fragile Tropics of Latin America: Sustainable Management of Changing Environments, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995) and Smith, N.J.H. et al., Amazonia - Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and its People, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995. The study which suggests nearly 12% of terre firme forests in the Amazon are anthropogenic is found in Balée, W., "The culture of Amazonian forests," Advances in Economic Botany 7: 1-21, 1989.
  • Myers, N. estimated in "Nature's Greatest Heritage Under Threat," Rainforests-The Illustrated Library of the Earth, Norman Myers, ed., Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1993 that roughly 60% of deforestation is caused by the shifted cultivator.
  • Skewed land distribution is discussed in Wood, C.H. and M. Schmink, "Blaming the victim: Small farmer production in an Amazon colonization project," Studies in Third World Societies 7: 77-93, 1978; Myers, N. "Nature's Greatest Heritage Under Threat," Rainforests-The Illustrated Library of the Earth, Norman Myers, ed., Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1993; and Smith, N.J.H. et al., Amazonia - Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and its People, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995.
  • Padoch, C., J. Chota Inurna, W. de Jong, and J. Unruh, "Amazonian agroforestry: A market-oriented system in Peru" Agroforestry Systems 3: 47-58, 1985; Nair, P. K., "State-of-the-art of agroforestry systems," Forest Ecology and Management 45: 5-29, 1991; T. Nishizawa and J. I. Uitto, eds. (The Fragile Tropics of Latin America: Sustainable Management of Changing Environments, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995) and Smith, N.J.H. et al., Amazonia - Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and its People, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995 discuss polycultural techniques in the rainforest including agroforestry and examines the highly dynamic nature of traditional agriculture in the Amazon.
  • Greenberg, R. et al., "Bird Populations in Shade and Sun Coffee Plantations in Central Guatemala," Conservation Biology Vol. 11 No. 24 (48-59), Apr. 1997, demonstrate higher biodiversity under agroforestry systems (shade coffee plantations) than conventional coffee plantations.
  • Home gardens in Amazonia are presented in Smith, N.J.H., "Strategies for sustainable agriculture in the humid tropics," Ecological Economics 2: 311 -323, 1990 and Smith, N.J.H. et al., Amazonia - Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and its People, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995.
  • The failure of many Indonesian transmigrant agriculture programs as a result of a lack of planning and administration is discussed in Brookfield, H., Potter, L., and Byron, Y., In Place of the Forest: Environmental and Socio-economic Transformation in Borneo and the Eastern Malay Peninsula (New York: United Nations University Press, 1995),
  • Myers, N. ("The world's forests: problems and potentials." Environmental Conservation 23 (2) p. 158-168. 1996) estimates the population of subsistence farmers dependent on tropical forests at more than 600 million and projects their growth rate at 4-6% per year.

Citations - Part II

  • The list of non-wood forest products is taken from State of the World's Forests 1999 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
  • Examples of sustainable harvest values come from studies in Peru (Peters, C.M., Gentry, A.H., and Mendelsohn, R.O., "Valuation of an Amazonian Rainforest," Nature Vol. 339: 655-656 1989) and Ecuador (Grimes, A. et al., "Valuing the rain forest: the economic value of nontimber forest products in Ecuador," Ambio Vol. 23 No. 7, Nov. 1994).

Citations - Part III

  • The Rainforest Action Network (1995) estimates U.S. imports of tropical American nuts at more than $300 million per year.
  • The story of Chico Mendes is told in Revkin, A.,The Burning Season, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990, a variation of which has been made into a film having the same name.
  • P.M. Fearnside reviews extractive reserves in "Extractive Reserves in Brazilian Amazon," BioScience, 39 (6): 387-93, 1993.
  • The Rainforest Action Network (1996) is assisting in a project to develop the sustainable collection of rattan-like vines in Brazil by the rural poor.
  • The practice is extracting venom by snakes on farms in the Congo is reported by T'sas, V., "Snake Venom, Congo's next Export?" Reuters 10/20/97.
  • The "brief history of rubber" box is excerpted from Wade Davis' One River (New York: Touchstone, 1996). Davis provides a broad and insightful look into the rubber business.
  • The overharvesting of the Wotango tree is discussed in Strieker, Gary, "Mission impossible: conserving Cameroon's natural resources," CNN Online, February 25, 1997.
  • Caufield, C., (In the Rainforest, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984) lists foods with origins in the rainforest, while Wilson, E.O., (The Diversity of Life, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1992) notes that only a fraction of the world's edible plants are consumed. He suggests that rainforests could be the source of new fruits, vegetables, and nuts that are better suited to tropical agriculture. Wilson notes that currently only about 200 rainforest fruits are regularly used.
  • Wilson (The Diversity of Life, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1992) goes on to point out that almost no tropical animals are exploited on a commercial basis (i.e. raised in farms). He cites several species with potential including the Amazon river turtle (Podocnemis sp). Smith, N.J.H. ("Destructive exploitation of the South American river turtle," Yearbook of the Pacific Coast Geographers 36: 85-102, 1974; and "Aquatic turtles of Amazônia An endangered resource," Biological Conservation 16(3): 165-176, 1979) and Mittermeier, R.A., ("South American River Turtles: Saving Their Future," Oryx, 14 (3): 222-230, 1978) have conducted studies on the viability of Podocnemis farming on Amazonian floodplains and has reached some promising conclusions.
  • Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998) suggests that the reason these tropical species have never been domesticated is they are poor candidates for domestication, though he does not discount the idea that they could be utilized in some manner.
  • N. Myers ("Population and Biodiversity," Ambio Vol 24 No. 1, Feb. 1995) and E.O. Wilson (The Diversity of Life, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1992) discuss the declining diversity of major food crops and the associated dangers of reduced genetic stock. Wilson recalls the near miss with Asian rice and grassy stunt virus in the 1970s, while Tarnowski, A. ("Scientists to Tap Amazon for Disease-Free Cocoa Strains," Reuters, 12/10/97) notes how vulnerable the Ghanan cocoa crop is given its narrow genetic base. Holdgate, M. ("The Ecological Significance of Biological Diversity," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 6, Sept. 1996) runs down the savings from genetic resources. Also see Robinson, J.G. and Reford, K.H., eds. (The Value of Conserving Genetic Resources; Neotropical Wildlife Use and Conservation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).
  • The importance of forests in maintaining food security is reviewed in Pimentel, D., McNair, M., Buck, I., Pimentel, M., and Kamil, J., "The value of forests to world food security," Human Ecology, 1996.

Citations - Part VII

  • According to Cox, P.A. and Balick, M.J., ("The Ethnobotanical Approach to Drug Discovery," Scientific American, June 1994) fewer than 5% of tropical forest plants and 0.1% of animals have been screened for their chemical properties and medicinal values. However, Cox and Balick note that recently more pharmaceutical firms have entered the rainforest plant arena and today the National Cancer Institute screens rainforest species for anti-cancer and anti-HIV compounds.
  • The drug discovery process is also discussed in Cox, P.A. and Balick, M.J., ("The Ethnobotanical Approach to Drug Discovery," Scientific American, June 1994) and Cragg, G.M., Simon, J.E., Jato, J.G ("Drug Discovery and Development at the National Cancer Institute: potential for New Pharmaceutical Crops," Progress in New Crops. J. Janick (ed), ASHS Press, Arlington, VA. 1996).
  • Indigenous use of plants can provide an important clue in finding compounds with medicinal promise as presented by Schultes, R.E. and Raffauf, R.F., The Healing Forest: Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia. Portland: Dioscorides Press, 1990; Cox, P.A. and Balick, M.J., "The Ethnobotanical Approach to Drug Discovery," Scientific American, June 1994; and Cox, P.A. and Elmqvist, T., "Ecocolonialism and Indigenous-Controlled Rainforest Preserves in Samoa," Ambio Vol. 26 No. 2, March 1997. In this regard, N. Myers (The Primary Source:Tropical Forests and Our Future, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1984) and W. Davis (One River, New York: Touchstone, 1996) discuss the tremendous library of botanical knowledge possessed by rainforest peoples. Myers notes than forest dwellers in Southeast Asia use 6,500 species, while northwest Amazonians use at least 1,300 plants for medicinal purposes.
  • The Anti-HIV compound Michellamine B derived from a liana in Cameroon is described in Cragg, G.M., Simon, J.E., Jato, J.G ("Drug Discovery and Development at the National Cancer Institute: potential for New Pharmaceutical Crops," Progress in New Crops. J. Janick (ed), ASHS Press, Arlington, VA. 1996).
  • Drugs derived from the rosy periwinkle generated over a billion dollars in profit for Eli Lilly & Co, yet Madagascar - the country from which the drugs originated - saw nothing in terms of revenue. This is mentioned in Robinson, K., "The Blessings of Biodiversity," Chronicle Foreign Services, 1/19/2000.
  • Biopiracy is discussed in LaFranchi, H., "Amazon Indians Ask 'Biopirates' to Pay for Rain-Forest Riches," Christian Science Monitor, 11/20/1997.
  • Some alternatives to biopiracy are mentioned in LaFranchi, H., "For US Company, Tribe Partnership Is Bottom Line," Christian Science Monitor, 11/20/1997 (Bixa orellana box) and Cox, P.A. and Balick, M.J., "The Ethnobotanical Approach to Drug Discovery," Scientific American, June 1994 (Prostialin from Somoa).
  • Stenson, A.J. and Gray, T.S. debate the merits of granting intellectual property rights to Indigenous communities for their knowledge of genetic plant resources in "An Autonomy-Based Justification for Intellectual Property Rights of Indigenous Communities," Environmental Ethics, Vol 21, Summer 1999.
  • The INBio/Merck agreement in Costa Rica is reviewed by Tangley, L., "Cataloging Costa Rica's Diversity," BioScience, 40 (6): 633-636, 1990), E.O. Wilson (The Diversity of Life, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1992) and the World Resources Institute 1992.
  • Raven, P.H, estimates that 20-25% of the world's plant species will be extinct by the year 2015 should forest cover continue to be diminished by 1-2% every year in "Our Diminishing Tropical Forests," In BioDiversity, Wilson, E.O. and Peter, F.M., eds., National Academy Press, Washington D.C. 1988.

Citations - Part IX

  • According to Boscolo M. and Vincent, J.R. (Promoting better logging practices in tropical forests: a simulation analysis of alternative regulations, World Bank, 5/21/98) and Vincent, J.R. and Gillis, M. ("Deforestation and Forest Land Use: A Comment," The World Bank Research Observer, vol. 13, no. 1 (133-140), Feb. 1998) forests in many countries are government owned and private ownership is restricted.
  • Vincent, J.R. and Gillis, M. ("Deforestation and Forest Land Use: A Comment," The World Bank Research Observer, vol. 13, no. 1 (133-140), Feb. 1998) note that because timber is often harvested under concession agreement, there is little incentive for logging firms to make investments in sound forest management.
  • Brown, N. and Press, M., "Logging Rainforests the Natural Way?" The New Scientist, 3/14/92, report on an ITTO survey which found that less than 0.1% of rainforests are sustainably managed, while Brooks, D.S. found that less than 1% of the area used for logging is under any form of forest management (US Forests in a Global Context, General Technical Report RM-228, USDA Forest Service, 1993)
  • State of the World's Forests 1999 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) discloses the importance of forestry to the global economy in finding it contributes 2% to world GDP and makes up 3% of international trade.
  • The Associated Press ("Quest for 'Green Gold' fells one of Earth's oldest rainforests," 5/7/96) reports that logging provides employment for 100,000 people in Sarawak alone and brings the province $1.5 billion every year.
  • Boscolo M. and Vincent, J.R. (Promoting better logging practices in tropical forests: a simulation analysis of alternative regulations, World Bank, 5/21/98) note that since loggers derive little benefit from mitigating negative environmental impacts of their activities they often ignore basic management practices in the absence of regulation and supervision.
  • Malaysia's poor enforcement of its forestry laws is mentioned in Manser, B. and Graf, R., "How Sustainable is Malaysia's Forest Industry?" Association for Peoples of the Rainforest, Nov. 1995.
  • Illegal logging in Indonesia is reported in Media Indonesia, Jakarta. 2/1/96.
  • U.S. tropical timber consumption is reported in EDF 1996, Making the Label Stick, The Environmental Defense Fund, 1997; and Brooks, D.S., US Forests in a Global Context, General Technical Report RM-228, USDA Forest Service, 1993.
  • Domestic timber consumption is noted in Vincent, J. R., "The tropical timber trade and sustainable development," Science 256: 1651-1655, 1992, and Bach, C.F. and Gram, S., "The Tropical Timber Triangle," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 3, May 1996.
  • FSC certification is discussed in Abramovitz, J.N., "Taking a Stand: Cultivating a New Relationship with the World's Forests," Worldwatch Institute 1998.
  • Non-tariff trade discrimination as a consequence of timber certification is discussed in Kumari, K., "Sustainable forest management: Myth or Reality? Exploring the Prospects for Malaysia," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 7, Nov. 1996. Kumari also suggests that tropical countries may see such certification efforts as a Western scheme to undermine their sovereignty.
  • The box entitled "Profit while reducing logging damage," comes from a report on an IMAZON study by the Associated Press, "New logging techniques could save the Amazon," August 18, 1999.
  • The text box on "Sustainable forest management" is taken from Bach, C.F. and Gram, S., "The Tropical Timber Triangle," Ambio Vol. 5 No. 3, May 1996.
  • The banana trade wars between the EU and US are examined in Fairclough, G. and McDermott, D., "The Banana Business is Rotten, So Why Do People Fight Over it?"The Wall Street Journal, 8/9/99.
  • Uhl, C. and Vieira, I., "Ecological Impacts of Selective Logging in the Brazilian Amazon: A Case Study of the Paragominas Region of the State of Para", Biotropica vol. 21: 98-106, 1989; Brown, N. and Press, M., "Logging Rainforests the Natural Way?" The New Scientist, 3/14/92; Gillis, M. "Forest concession, management, and revenue policies." In Sharma, N., ed. Managing the World's Forests: Looking for Balance Between Conservation and Development, Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishers, 1992; Sharma, N., ed., Managing the World's Forests:Looking for Balance Between Conservation and Development, Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishers 1992; Bach, C.F. and Gram, S., "The Tropical Timber Triangle," Ambio Vol. 5 No. 3, May 1996; Costa, P.M., "Tropical forestry practices for carbon sequestration: a review and case study from southeast Asia," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 4, June 1996; EDF 1996, Making the Label Stick, The Environmental Defense Fund, 1997; Holdsworth, A.R. and Uhl, C., "Fires in Amazonian selectively logged rain forest and the potential for fire reduction," Ecological Applications Vol. 7, issue 2 (713-725) 1997; State of the World's Forests 1999 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); and The International Tropical Timber Organization (1996-2000) suggest methods to make logging more sustainable.
  • A different position is taken in Bowles, I.A., R. E. Rice, R. A. Mittermeier, and G. A. B. da Fonseca, ("Logging and Tropical Forest Conservation," Science 280: 1899-1900, June 19, 1998). They argue that more focus is needed on investments in protected areas rather than in logging experiments designed to ensure "sustainability" and the conservation of biodiversity.
  • The strip logging techniques of the Amuesha in the Yanesha Forest Cooperative are described in Hartshorn, G.S., "Natural Forest Management by the Yanesha Forestry Cooperative in Peruvian Amazonia," in A.B. Anderson, ed., Alternatives to Deforestation: Steps Toward Sustainable Use of the Amazon Rain Forest, New York: Columbia University Press, 1990; Wilson, E.O., The Diversity of Life, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1992; and Smith, N.J.H. et al., Amazonia - Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and its People, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995. D. Mason ("Responses of Venezuelan Understory Birds to Selective Logging, Enrichment Strips, and Vine Cutting," Biotropica vol. 28:296-309, 1996) examines the effect of strip logging on bird diversity.
  • Reduced-impact logging can be used to significantly reduce carbon emissions relative to conventional logging according to Costa, P.M., "Tropical forestry practices for carbon sequestration: a review and case study from southeast Asia," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 4, June 1996.
  • Abramovitz, J.N., ("Taking a Stand: Cultivating a New Relationship with the World's Forests," Worldwatch Institute 1998) estimates that more than 40% world's industrial timber ends up as paper of which two-thirds is consumed by Europe, Japan, and the United States.
  • The "Improved Harvesting Systems" box is based on recommendations from The State of the World's Forests 1999 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); and literature from the International Tropical Timber Organization (1996-2000). The logistics and viability of helicopter logging is examined in ITTO, "Helicopter logging lifts off in Sarawak," Tropical Forest Update, Volume 6, No 3 1996/3 and Blakeney, J., for ITTO project PD 107/90 (I) in Sarawak, Malaysia, January 1994.
  • The State of the World's Forests 1999 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that international trade in waste paper is up 365% from 1980 levels, while consumption of such paper is up 217%.
  • The "Common Plantation Species" table is taken from The State of the World's Forests 1999 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Citations - Part XII

  • Shane, Douglas R., Hoofprints on the forest: Cattle ranching and the destruction of Latin America's tropical forests, Philadelphia, PA: Institute for the Study of Human Values, 1986, provides a solid background of the clearing rainforest for cattle pasture.
  • Smith, N.J.H. et al., Amazonia - Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and its People, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995 explains why cattle are an attractive investment option in the Amazon.
  • The use of intercropping to diversify income sources and maintain soil quality on pasturelands is discussed in Smith, N.J.H. et al., Amazonia - Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and its People, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995.
  • The table entitled "Alternatives to cattle on tropical lands" is derived from T. Nishizawa and J. I. Uitto, eds. (The Fragile Tropics of Latin America: Sustainable Management of Changing Environments, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995). The yield from turtle farms is compared with the yield from cattle ranching on vàrzea by Mittermeier, R.A., ("South American River Turtles: Saving Their Future," Oryx, 14 (3): 222-230, 1978) and Wilson (The Diversity of Life, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1992).

Citations - Part XIII

  • Steps taken by Shell Oil in Gabon to reduce access to their oil site are mentioned in Judah, T., "Rumbles in the Jungle," Mail and Guardian, 7/30/99.
  • The description of Shell's eco-friendly planning for their Peruvian oil project is from Friedland, J., "Oil Companies Strive To Turn A New Leaf to Save Rain Forest," Wall Street Journal, 7/17/97.
  • R.C. Rockwell explains how less developed countries can avoid the long term costs of pollution by adopting more advanced energy infrastructure in "From a carbon economy to a mixed economy: a global opportunity," Consequences, Vol. 4 No. 1 1998.
  • Despite the booming American economy of 1998, carbon dioxide emissions remained almost flat in the United States, while world emissions fell 0.5% as reported in Fialka, J.J. "Flat CO2 emissions give experts hope," The Wall Street Journal, 8/2/99.
  • Daniel Yergin, in The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, New York: Touchstone Books, 1991 notes that while the U.S. was 25% more oil efficient and 32% more oil efficient in 1985 than in 1973, the Japanese their energy efficiency by 31% and their oil efficiency by 51%. McDermott, D. ("Economists don't see a big inflation threat from oil"The Wall Street Journal 3/26/99) notes the U.S. is becoming less reliant on oil.
  • British Petroleum's carbon reforms are noted by Brown, L. et al., "Vital Signs 1998," Worldwatch Institute, 1998 and Rosen, Y., "BP Head Tells Oil Industry to Heed Emissions Issue," Reuters, 1/24/98
  • A brief overview of carbon reinjection is given in Schneider, D., "Burying the Problem?" Scientific American, Jan 1998.
  • In The Economist, "Science and Technology-War, Words," June 14-20, 1997, it is noted that government spending on renewable energy was only $878 million in 1995 compared with the $5 million spent on research for nuclear power.
  • Brown, L. et al. ("Vital Signs 1998," Worldwatch Institute, 1998) reported that wind power was up 26% in 1997.
  • Alternative fuel systems are mentioned in Tate, R. "Entrepreneur Drives to Sell Workable Substitute for Gas," the Wall Street Journal, 8/25/99; the Environmental News Network, "Cleaner Fuels on the Horizon," 1/12/98; and US Department of Energy, Carbon Management: Assessment of Fundamental Research Notes, Office of Energy Research, Department of Energy, Aug 1997.
  • Cleaner mining techniques are discussed in Coghlan, A., "Cleaner Gold Improves Miners' Prospects," New Scientist (April 6, 1996) and A. Coghlan, "Midas Touch Could End Amazon's Pollution," New Scientist (June 27, 1997).

Citations - Part XIV

  • The backlash against genetically modified foods is outlined by the World Wildlife Fund and Kilman, S. and Burton, T.M., "Monsanto boss's vision of 'life sciences' firm now confronts reality," The Wall Street Journal 12/21/99.
  • Increasing productivity on degraded forest lands is discussed in Plucknett, Donald L. and N.L.H. Smith, "Sustaining agricultural yields: As productivity rises, maintenance research is needed to uphold the gains," Bioscience 36: 40-45, 1986; T. Nishizawa and J. I. Uitto, eds. (The Fragile Tropics of Latin America: Sustainable Management of Changing Environments, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995); Smith, N.J.H. et al., Amazonia - Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and its People, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995; and Dobson, A.P., A.D. Bradshaw, A.J.M. Baker, "Hopes for the Future: Restoration Ecology and Conservation Biology," Science 277: 515-522, July 25, 1997.
  • The rehabilitation of the Mauritius Kestrel is discussed in Peregrine Falcon Fund 1996, D. Adams and M. Carwardine in Last Chance to See (New York: Harmony Books, 1991), and Quammen, D. (The Song of the Dodo, New York: Scribner, 1996).
  • The reforestation effort of the Rio de Norte Mining Company is reported in Astor, M., "Rio do Norte's reforestation effort in Amazon focuses on replenishment," A.P. August 19, 1999.
  • Offsetting greenhouse gas emissions by replanting and rehabilitating secondary forests is reviewed in Houghton, R.A., "Tropical deforestation and atmospheric carbon dioxide," in Tropical Forests and Climate Change, ed N. Myers, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1983; Houghton, R.A., "Converting terrestrial ecosystems from sources to sinks of carbon" Ambio Vol. 25 No. 4, June 1996; and Costa, P.M., "Tropical forestry practices for carbon sequestration: a review and case study from southeast Asia," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 4, June 1996. However this ability of forests to serve as a net carbon sink has been criticized of late by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) (B. Scholes, "Will the terrestrial carbon sink saturate soon?" Global Change NewsLetter No. 37:2-3, March 1999) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (R. Watson et al. IPCC Special Report on Land Use, Land Use Changes, and Forestry, 1999).
  • Costa, P.M. ("Tropical forestry practices for carbon sequestration: a review and case study from southeast Asia," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 4, June 1996) discusses the FACE project.

Citations - Part XV

  • E.O. Wilson (The Diversity of Life, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1992) estimates that 95% of the planet's species remain undescribed and at the rate we are progressing it would take nearly 4000 years to describe all the species on Earth.
  • Dietz, James M. ("Conservation of Biodiversity in Neotropical Primates," from Biodiversity II, Reaka-Kudla, Wilson, Wilson, eds. Washington D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, 1997) notes that since 1990 four new primate species have been discovered in Brazil.
  • The complexity of interactions within ecosystems is summed up in an eloquent fashion by E.O. Wilson in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998). Ecologists have attempted to simplify their understanding of these systems by linking biodiversity and ecosystem function through defining membership in functional groups as explained by Silver, W.L., Brown, S., and Lugo, A.E., "Effects of changes in biodiversity on ecosystem function in tropical forests," Conservation Biology Vol. 10 No. 1 (17-24), Feb. 1996.
  • Stone, R. ("A Long March to Save Africa's Dwindling Wildlands," Science 285 (5429): 825, 6-Aug-1999) publicizes conservation biologist Fay's walk across the Congo.
  • The Global 2000 conservation strategy is presented by Olson, D. and Dinerstein, E. in The Global 200: A Representation Approach to Conserving the Earth's Distinctive Ecoregions, Conservation Science Program, World Wildlife Fund, Washington, DC., 1998.
  • Biodiversity "Hot Spots" are defined and pinpointed in Myers, N., "Threatened Biotas" 'Hot spots' in Tropical Forests," Environmentalist, 8 (3): 187-208, 1988. A revised look at biodiversity hot-spots can be found in Myers, N., "The Biodiversity Challenge: Expanded Hot-Spots Analysis," Environmentalist, 10 (4): 243-256, 1990.
  • Studies on isolated forest reserves showing reduced diversity can be found in Laurance, W.F. and R.O. Bierregaard, Jr, eds., Tropical Forest Remnants: Ecology, Management, and Conservation of Fragmented Communities, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997 and Bawa, K.S. and Seidler, R., "Natural Forest Management and Conservation of Biodiversity in Tropical Forests," Conservation Biology Vol. 12 No. 1 (46-55), Feb 1998.
  • Changes in species composition over time on Barro Colorado Island are discussed in Quammen, D., The Song of the Dodo, New York: Scribner, 1996; Laurance, W.F. and R.O. Bierregaard, Jr, eds., Tropical Forest Remnants: Ecology, Management, and Conservation of Fragmented Communities, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997; Robinson, W.D. "Long-term changes in the avifauna of Barro Colorado Island, Panama, a tropical forest isolate." Conservation Biology Vol. 13 No. 1 (85-97), Feb. 1999.
  • Turner, I.M. and Corlett, R.T., "The conservation value of small, isolated fragments of lowland tropical rain forest," Trends in Ecology & Evolution Vol. 11, No. 8. August 1998 argue the answer to the question "Are Forest Fragments Worth Saving" is "yes."
  • An overview of biodiversity and ecosystem valuation is presented in Wilson, E.O., The Diversity of Life, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1992. Wilson argues that by putting a price on the goods and services biodiversity provides we may be able to reduce uninformed destruction of species and ecosystems.
  • Costanza, R., ed., Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability, New York: Columbia University Press, 1991 values ecosystems and the benefits they provide at $33 trillion per year.
  • Dasgupta, S., Laplante, N., and Mamingi, N., find that stock prices for individual firms in developing countries react to environmental news in "Capital Market Responses to Environmental Performance in Developing Countries," The World Bank Research Group, 1997.
  • The savings from the importation of weevils for oil-palm plantations is stated in Greathead, D.J., "The multi-million dollar weevil that pollinates oil palm," Antenna (Royal Entomological Society of London), 7: 105-107. 1983 and Myers, N., "The world's forests: problems and potentials," Environmental Conservation. 23 (2) p. 158-168, 1996.
  • The box "Economic Values" is taken from Kumari, K., "Sustainable forest management: Myth or Reality? Exploring the Prospects for Malaysia," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 7, Nov. 1996.
  • Other forms of biodiversity and ecosystem valuation are reviewed in Oksanen, M. ("The Moral Value of Biodiversity" Ambio Vol. 26 No. 8, Dec. 1997); O'Neill, J. ("Managing without Prices: the Monetary Valuation of Biodiversity," Ambio Vol. 26 No. 8, Dec. 1997); Hawken, P. (The Ecology of Commerce: a Declaration of Sustainability New York: HarperCollins, 1993); Carson, R.T. "Valuation of tropical rainforests: philosophical and practical issues in the use of contingent valuation," Ecological Economics 24 (1998) 15-29.
  • The box, "Lower taxes and save the environment" comes from Kramer, G., "Group says tax pollution, not paychecks, profits," A.P. 5/11/97.
  • An overview of biodiversity and ecosystem valuation is presented in E.O. Wilson (The Diversity of Life, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1992) suggests using blocked funds as a mechanism to ease debt pressures on developing countries.

Citations - Part XVIII

  • Inamdar, A., H. de Jode, K. Lindsay, and S. Cobb in "Capitalizing on Nature: Protected Area Management," (Science 283: 1856-1857, March 19, 1999) suggest that a business-oriented approach to biodiversity conservation may be the best way to strengthen existing conservation institutions.
  • The merits of community-based conservation are reviewed in Western, D., Wright, R.M., and Strum, S. eds., Natural Connections : Perspectives in Community-Based Conservation, Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1994 (a series of case studies); Fimbel, C. and Fimbel, R., "Rwanda: The role of local participation." Conservation Biology Vol. 11 No. 2 (309-310), Apr. 1997 (case study in Rwanda); and Getz, W.H. et al., "Sustaining Natural and Human Capital: Villagers and Scientists," Science 283: 1855-1856, March 19, 1999. Hackel, J.D. ("Community Conservation and the Future of Africa's Wildlife," Conservation Biology, Vol. 13, No. 4: 726-734, August 1999) discusses some of the conflicts between community-based conservation and the economic needs of local Africans.
  • Kremen, C. et al. ("Designing the Masoala National Park in Madagascar Based on Biological and Socioeconomic Data," Conservation Biology, Vol. 13 No. 5 (1055-1068), Oct. 1999) note the importance of considering human use of forest areas prior to designating a protected area.
  • Noble, I.R., and R. Dirzo, "Forests as Human-Dominated Ecosystems," Science 277: 522-525, July 25, 1997 argue that it is important to recognize that today many forests are human-dominated ecosystems used for logging, hunting, and agroforestry. The emphasize the need to develop strategies for sustainable management and to encourage interaction between all interested parties.
  • Costa, P.M. ("Tropical forestry practices for carbon sequestration: a review and case study from southeast Asia," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 4, June 1996) examines tradable greenhouse gas emission budgets including some of the hurdles such a system must overcome. Rippel, B. ("Tradable CO2 Emissions Permits: Problems with the 'Perfect' Solution," National Consumer Coalition 11/25/97) points out that because some countries already have emissions below their 1990 levels, they will be able to sell their credits to countries with growing economies, essentially being rewarded for running polluting and inefficient industries. Daly, H. (Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development, Boston: Beacon Press, 1996) notes the scale problems of tradeable pollution permits in that there will always be pressure to exceed self-imposed limits on carbon emissions.
  • Costa, P.M. ("Tropical forestry practices for carbon sequestration: a review and case study from southeast Asia," Ambio Vol. 25 No. 4, June 1996) and Asumadul, K. ("Carbon trading: a new opportunity for tropical timber producing countries," ITTO Tropical Forest Update Vol. 8, no. 4, 1998) discuss carbon offset programs based on the idea that forests can serve as net carbon sinks. However, recent studies (B. Scholes, "Will the terrestrial carbon sink saturate soon?" Global Change NewsLetter (the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme-IGBP) No. 37:2-3, March 1999) and R. Watson et al. IPCC Special Report on Land Use, Land Use Changes, and Forestry, the Intergovernmental Pannel on Climate Change, 1999) dispute this claim. They suggest that as temperatures rise, respiration rates will increase, eventually canceling out the carbon absorbed by forests growing today.
  • Mattoon, A.T., "Bogging Down in the Sinks," Worldwatch Nov/Dec 1998 points out potential problems with the greenhouse forestry-sinks program under Kyoto Protocol.
  • Bolivia's agreement to protect 2.2 million acres of forest for carbon emission credit is reported in PR Newswire, "Vice President Gore Announces Approval of International Project to Protect Bolivian Rain Forest and Offset Greenhouse Gases," 12/7/96.
  • The Woods Hole Research Center in "RisQue98," 1998 and Holdsworth, A.R. and Uhl, C. in "Fires in Amazonian selectively logged rain forest and the potential for fire reduction," Ecological Applications Vol. 7, issue 2 (713-725), 1997 provide an outline of steps to reduce the massive Amazonian forest fires.

Citations - Part XIX

  • Cornwell, S. ("Big Powers Plan to Save Forests," Reuters, 5/9/98) reports on the G-8 announcement that it would encourage developing countries to protect their forests by offering aid to countries that made forest preservation a priority.
  • EDF (Making the Label Stick, The Environmental Defense Fund, 1997) and Myers Myers, N. ("The world's forests: problems and potentials," Environmental Conservation 23 (2) p. 158-168, 1996) believe that eliminating subsidies for activities that promote forest clearing would probably have the widest ranging effect on curbing deforestation in the tropics.
  • According to Hurrell, A., ("The politics of Amazonian deforestation," Journal of Latin American Studies 23: 197-215, 1990) the Amazon was thought to have great investment potential.
  • MacNeill, J. ("A commentary on the politics of prevention," in Tropical Forests and Climate, N. Myers, ed. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992) notes that there are serious conflicts of interests within government departments in many developing countries (MacNeill 1992)
  • Daily, G.C., Ehrlich, A.H., and Ehrlich, P.R., ("Socioeconomic Equity: a Critical Element in Sustainability." Ambio Vol. 24 No. 1, Feb 1995) note that poor nations have little incentive to cooperate in maintaining the lifestyles of the rich through conservation efforts while they remain mired in poverty.
  • According to the Rainforest Action Network (1993), in 1987 the World Bank granted loans exceeding US$15 billion to tropical countries.
  • The box describing the ecological corridor project is taken from an Associated Press report, "Ecologists Trying to Restore Brazil's Dwindled Atlantic Forest," February 22, 1997.
  • The Global Environment Facility is evaluated in Horta, K. "Band-aid for a battered planet: evaluating the GEF," Environmental Defense Fund, 3/21/98.
  • According to Phillips, M.M. ("World Bank Board Agrees to Weaken a Watchdog Panel," The Wall Street Journal, 4/21/99) the World Bank opted to weaken the inspection panel.
  • Information on RAN boycotts is provide by the Rainforest Action Network.
  • EDF (Making the Label Stick, The Environmental Defense Fund, 1997) notes the effect of the Friends of the Earth "mahogany is Murder" campaign of mahogany imports to the United Kingdom.
  • Epstein, J. in "Corporations enlisted in battle to save rain forests," San Francisco Chronicle, 7/7/99, notes the work of private corporations in funding and supporting rainforest conservation.
  • A survey of the trend towards "green business" in American corporations is found in Arnst, C. "Green Business," Business Week Online, 1997.
  • "Views on Conservation: Western vs. Indigenous" is taken from Cox, P.A. and Elmqvist, T., "Ecocolonialism and Indigenous-Controlled Rainforest Preserves in Samoa," Ambio Vol. 26 No. 2, March 1997.

Citations - Part XXVI

  • The conclusion draws heavily on ideas and examples found in the last section of Edward O. Wilson's Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998). He discusses population growth and concludes the number of people Earth can sustain depends on the quality of life future generations are willing to accept. J.E. Cohen (How Many People Can the Earth Support? New York: W.W. Norton: 1995 and P.R. Ehrlich and J.P. Holden "Impact of population growth" Science 171: 1212-1217, 1971 go into greater detail on Earth's human carrying capacity. Norman Myers ("The world's forests and their ecosystem services," in Nature's Services - Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems, ed G.C. Daily, Washington D.C.: Island Press, 1997) calculates that for people of developing countries to attain the standard of living enjoyed by Americans we would need the equivalent of another three planet Earths.
  • Myers (1997) and Wilson (1998) review some of the signs that human population is negatively impacting the world environment such as agricultural per capita production, ocean fisheries, ground water supplies, erosion, poverty, and climate change. Vitousek, P.M. et al. ("Human appropriation of the products of photosynthesis," BioScience Vol. 36, 368-373, 1986) estimate that humans are are appropriating 40% of net primary production.
  • J.E. Lovelock presented his Gaia theory in Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
  • Technological fixes fot the world's environmental problems are mention in Wilson's consilience and discusses at greater length in J.H. Ausubel, "Can technology spare the earth?" American Scientist 84:166-178 1996. Natural plastic - a plastic made from plants rather than petroleum - is announced in Warren, S. "Cargill, Dow Chemical Join To Make 'Natural Plastic,'" The Wall Street Journal, 1/11/00.
  • The UN estimate for the cost of establishing fuelwood plantations to replace harvesting from natural forests is provided by Myers, Norman "The world's forests: problems and potentials," Environmental Conservation 23 (2):158-168, 1996.
  • Wilson (1998) provides a succinct review of the Biosphere II project, while J.E. Cohen and D. Tilman "Biosphere 2 and Biodiversity: the Lessons Learned So Far," Science 274:1150-1151, 1996 provide a more academic look at this elaborate experiment to recreate miniature ecosystems.
  • The role of environmental degradation and overpopulation in the downfall of great civilizations of antiquity is discussed in C. Runnels, "Environmental degradation in ancient Greece," Scientific American 272 (3): 72-75, 1995 [Greece]; R. Adams, Heartland of Cities, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981 [Mesopotamia]; Sharer, R.J., The Ancient Maya, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994 [Mayans]; and Diamond, J., "Easter's End," Discover. Vol. 16, No. 8, Aug 1995 [Easter Island]].
  • The loneliness of a biologically impoverished Earth is a subject explored by David Quammen in Wild Thoughts from Wild Places, New York: Scribner 1998 and E.O. Wilson in On human nature, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978
  • Myers, N. ("The world's forests and their ecosystem services," in Nature's Services - Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems, Ed G.C. Daily, Washington D.C.: Island Press, 1997) notes that the actions we take today will determine whether Earth will be biologically impoverished for the 500 trillion or more humans that may inhabit the earth in the future.