May 25, 2006

Tropical timber is better protected, not safe: report

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - Developing nations have got far better
at protecting rain forests over the past two decades but are a
long way short of doing enough to save the crucial global
resource, a new report said on Thursday.

While the area of tropical timber under sustainable
management has surged to 36 million hectares from less than one
million in 1988, that represents less than 5 percent of all
tropical forests, the International Tropical Timber
Organization (ITTO) said.

Rain forest under sustainable management is roughly the
size of Germany, but an area a third of that magnitude is being
cleared each year for timber or crops, the ITTO said in a
report that took four years to compile.

"This report says much has been done but much more needs to
be done. It is good news but it is very fragile," co-author
Duncan Poore said. "It is a starting point. It shows where
things ought to go. But there is no knowing if they will."

Poore praised Malaysia for its long-standing legal
framework for managing forests in a sustainable way and said
Bolivia, Peru, Congo Republic, Gabon and Ghana had made good

But he said there was a large discrepancy between
management plans and management practice that sometimes allowed
illegal logging to lay waste large areas of pristine forest.

"There has been a huge increase in the amount of illegal
logging -- which undermines the price of timber that is legally
and sustainably logged," Poore told Reuters in an interview.


The Japan-based ITTO, the world's main international agency
tasked with ensuring the sustainable management, use of and
trade in tropical timber, said its report was the most thorough
ever undertaken.

The report, "Status of Tropical Forest Management 2005,"
called for all nations with tropical forests to table plans for
sustainable management, then implement and police them.

It said while there were plans in place for managing 96
million hectares, or one quarter of the 353 million hectares
designated as production forests, only about 7 percent of this
was actually being managed in a sustainable way.

ITTO said while nations in Asia and the Pacific had plans
to manage 55 million hectares of tropical timber in a
sustainable way, only 14.3 million hectares were actively

In Africa, plans to manage 10 million hectares had turned
into just 4.3 million in practice, while in Latin America and
the Caribbean it was 31 million hectares against 6.5 million.

"The only way to get proper policing is to persuade
governments that their forests are worth protecting," Poore
said. "They must make forests managed sustainably for timber
worth more than clearing them for crops."

"Targeted aid could be used to that end. The key is to make
sustainably logged timber financially competitive with
alternatives and to stamp down on illegal practices."