Deforestation And the Lumber Industry

By Tate Blahnik        

            Most of the world has been fighting the deforestation of both the Amazon and the Congo for nearly 30 years.  The pillaging lumber industry has taken very little heed over the world's concern that permanent damage is being done to the environment.  The Amazonas, which is the largest state of Brazil, composes most of the northwestern part of the nation.  Although it is the largest state within the nation is it also the least populated.  Most of the population can be found living within a half dozen cities, most of which lie along the Amazon River.  The indigenous population, which used to make up a significant part of the nation's population has continues to die out due to disease, deforestation, and economic dislocation. The Amazonas is made up almost entirely of tropical rainforest.  It is estimated that 95% of the state's land is comprised of rainforest, which would mean there is close to 350 million acres of rainforest within this region of the nation.  There is another 700 million acres of rainforest that comprise the neighboring nations but no other country possesses as much rainforest as Brazil.

 The lumber industry began pillaging forests within the Congo shortly after lumber companies working within the Amazon began being attacked for their raping of the rainforests.  Deforestation is not the only issue that plagues the Congo, but it is one of the more globally important concerns.  The Congo is faced with poverty, disease, and the lack of a stable sociopolitical system.  Central Africa has many valuable natural resources, but the depletion of the forests affects the regional inhabitants as well as the global environment.  These economically and ecologically effects, are two of the major factors shaping the Congo in modern day. 

            Both wild forests and rainforests exert a major influence on climate and affect the energy exchange rates between the atmosphere and the earth's surface.  They also absorb carbon dioxide and are a major element in the progression of the water cycle.  The deforestation of both types of natural resources has a dramatic effect on the environment and is a detriment to the future ecological development of land.  The need to preserve forests is a necessary condition for the long-term preservation of human life and is the basis of the conservationist movement.  Unfortunately the future of the environment is not the only concern for most of these countries; economic issues cloud most of the reasonable and ethical considerations when these nations are looking out for their best interests.  It becomes almost impossible for these nations, strapped for economic growth, to place the welfare of the global environment in front of their own economic and political stability.

            The Amazonas is the primary source of timber for the world, followed by the Congo.  The United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan are the 4 largest foreign purchasers of Brazilian timber and wood products.  The Brazilian government is fully aware of the importance of the Amazonas rainforest and over the last decade has taken many steps in decreasing the amount of destroyed rainforest for timber production.  Brazil has also set many new laws prohibiting and punishing companies that cut down the rare wood, mahogany and virola.  Brazil has also reduced subsidies to the agricultural sector that had worked in the Amazonas.  Brazil is also worrying about a growing national debt, inflation and devaluing currency, on top of the deforestation and rape of its natural resources.  One of the most important details in saving the rainforests in Brazil and the woodlands in the Congo is the continual education of the native people and the creation of steady work. 

            In the past, farmers were uneducated and knew very little of such ideas as crop rotation and soil replenishing.  Most of the farmers grew either cotton or tobacco because both are a good cash crop and are easily exported.  This type of farming is very detrimental to the land and can quickly deplete the soil of its nutrients and leave the farmers without land.  Farmers were then forced to clear new land deeper into the forests in search of rich, fertile soil.  As governments or private sector groups move into third world countries they need to take the responsibility of teaching farmers more economical and more ecologically sound ways of farming the lands.  Private sector groups coming into third world countries also possess the ability to help set up markets for crops and create a means for farmers to sell other types of crops besides cotton and tobacco. 

The idea would be to improve the lives of the farmers and by doing so enlisting them in the battle to save the rainforests. 

            The most feasible way of educating the farmers would come from funding by the local government or by allowing tax breaks for private sector groups that came into the nation.  This educational process would need to be long term and aimed at groups nearest the rainforest or nearest the most dense parts of the Congo.  Many attempts have been made at educating the farmers but most of these attempts were short lived and failed to do more then give the farmers a glimpse at what needs to be done.  This educational process would need to be consistently teaching the natives how to better farm and treat the land.  The local governments could also entice the native farmers by offering more financial add for different types of crops and for farms that remain on the same lands for several seasons.

            One of the difficulties for many countries is that they see the rainforests as little more then a valuable natural resource that they can sell to help raise the national income of the nation.  Most estimates of the price of rainforest range from 1 billion dollars per million hectares to 4 billion dollars per million hectares, depending on the density of the rainforest and the amount of rare wood within the given area.  It is not wrong for governments to want to develop this land to help their nation but it is wrong for them to willingly sell off more land then could be reasonably deforested.   These governments that intend to sell forests for profit need to follow at least a few reasonable guidelines. 

1)      Designate parts of the forests for national parks, industrial logging, agricultural farming, and portions for yet unseen needs.

2)      Maintain the ecological integrity of the forestlands, in part by conserving biological diversity, water, and nutrient cycles.

3)      Maximize forest revenues to the extent that doing so is compatible with the first two stipulations.

4)      Clearly delineate rights and responsibilities to land and resources to make the distribution of benefits from forest tenure and use more equitable.

5)      Attract and encourage both reliable foreign and local investors and companies.

6)      Make the administration of the forest more efficient and open to public scrutiny.


These guidelines would help countries deal with the logging industry and help create a balance between the conservation of the forests and the economic growth of the nation.  The local governments would have to set aside specific requirements and laws for the logging industry, and some of those requirements might be as follows: Logging companies would pay a flat fee for entrance into the forests and then be given a specific area of land.  Companies would then be more willing to exploit a given area to maximum their profit.   One way to ensure this would be adhered to by the logging companies, is to require them to purchase bonds for the lands and install stiff penalties for logging outside their designated bounds.  These bonds would be able to be purchased by the logging companies and in the case that they neglected the restrictions that were placed on them this bond could be taken back by the government and resold to another logging company.

            One of the most profitable and ecologically sound alternatives to mass deforestation in the Amazon and Congo is to attract not only responsible logging companies but entice these companies to build production facilities within the nations that they are logging from.  Most of the logging industry cuts down the timber and immediately ships it to foreign countries where their factories process the wood into timber and other wood products.  The first reason this is done is that much of the logging companies' profit come from rare or banned woods.  By shipping the woods outside of the country, the logging companies are able to sell them to a third party and then ship the finished products to the US and Canadian market with less hassle from governments and conservation groups.  Most of the nations that these woods are exported from have strict laws against the export and mining of rare woods, such as mahogany.   So by selling the timber to a third party the logging industry is able to bypass many of the conservation groups aiming at conserving rare woods.  Local governments could be a large deterrent for these companies if they began placing stiffer penalties for exporting of rare woods or limited the amount of raw timber that could be exported from the nation.  Also by offering tax breaks for companies willing to move into the nation and set up factories for finishing timber products logging companies would be more willing to stay within the nation and not seek third parties for selling the woods. 

            It is estimated that it costs 2 million dollars for shipping every 10 million dollars worth of because of the additional shipping distance to and from the production sights.  Most moderate sawmills and pulp production factories cost between 10 and 20 million dollars and would employ between 500 and 2000 natives.  These factories would in fact pay for themselves within about 5 years of being opened, and that is not including the tax break that the companies would be receiving.  Most government tax breaks are given for a 10 or 15 year span and would benefit any company looking to maximize its profits in the coming century.  This would also greatly benefit the nations that were being industrialized because one of the main reasons for the mass deforestation in the Amazonas and Congo is the poverty level and unemployment rates.  These new factories would attract workers and cost the logging companies no more for labor then they would be paying for the third parties production rates.  

            Another very suitable means to slow down deforestation rates in the Amazonas and Congo is to track more closely the export of the timber and the third parties that are treating and processing the woods.  Most of the local governments are in dire need a cash flow and willingly take any economic help the timber companies offer, and because of this they often turn their back to the export of rare woods.  It is not necessarily the fault of the governments but it is the responsibility of the governments, the logging industry and the consumer companies to make sure the woods exported from the nation are tracks and marked in accordance with a global scheme.  This way all woods would be able to be tracked and consumers would possess the ability to choose which types of timber they prefer to us.  This would also be a good weapon in the hands of the conservation groups because they would be able to notify consumers and companies of illegal activities by the lumber companies. 

            It is not reasonable to think that economic penalties and permits are enough to stop the deforestation of the world but they are a good means in which we can slow down the destruction of the rainforest and Congo.  Such economic deterrents are unfortunately nothing more then a deterrent and not a preventative force.  But ideas such as these, as well as the continued education of native farmers will help preserve the rainforests for at least a short time.  During this time of slowed deforestation there is hope that a non-destructive means of harvesting the natural resources of a country can be economically researched and tested.  The ideas that relate to saving the forests are also extremely beneficial for the nations that are being deforested because in almost all of the modeled ideas these countries gain a more substantial income as well and educate the populace and provide industrialization and jobs for the natives.



            Aiken, Robert.  Vanishing Rain Forests.  Oxford. Clarendon 1992

Collins, Stephen.  The Perpetual Rain Forest.  Phiadelphia. Lippincott: 1959

Engineering 297B Volume1: The Environment.  Professor Bruce Lusignan

Frontier Expansion in Amazonia.  Gainesville: University of Florida Press

Miller, Kenton.  Trees of Life.  Boston.  Beacon Press: 1991

Sizer, Nigel.  Profit Without Plunder: Reaping Revenue from Guyana's Tropical Forests Without Destroying Them.  Washington D.C. World Resources Institute, 1996


Taylor, Leslie.  "Rainforest Facts: Saving the Rainforests, A Complex Problem". 


Web Articles and Pages:

             "Brazil Picks Forests to Log", February 3, 1998

           “Ethics related to the rainforest”

        “Ethics related to the rainforest”

                Conservation group