Obstacles to Sustainable Forest Management

The idea that sustainable forest management can be an effective conservation tool rests, in part, on the premise that it can stabilize wood production in a given area. In principle, this would lead to conservation by maintaining forest cover and reducing pressures on other primary forests. However, this has rarely happened in practice (Bowles et al. 1998). There are steep hurdles facing broad adoption of investments in SFM. For one thing, such investments are almost always financially unattractive. Reaping a one-time harvest of ancient trees today is simply more profitable than managing for future harvests (Reid and Rice 1997).

Most countries with tropical forests do not have the capability to counter such financial incentives. Tropical countries are often feeding grounds for foreign logging corporations. Many developing countries have severe economic problems such as high inflation, unemployment, and foreign debt, and as a result are usually willing to attract investment (see Chap. 4). Many of these countries have weak environmental and social laws or little enforcement capabilities and are thus highly attractive to foreign loggers. Bribery and corruption can be severe problems because forest resources are often controlled by a few powerful individuals (Laurance 2000).

Just because there are serious obstacles to SFM does not mean that researchers and practitioners should give up the idea. The stakes are too great. Rather, it means that the effort to promote SFM must be redoubled and refined. There is already evidence that reduced impact logging, an important component of SFM, is economically attractive when looking toward the long-term profitability of the forested area. The problem arises when those with the authority over the resource have no responsibility for the future of that resource. Resolving the problem of exploitation of tropical forests means that authority over the land and the forest upon it must be more closely linked to the responsibility for the future of that resource.

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