Balancing Conservation and Economic Sustainability: The Future of the Amazon Timber Industry
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- Merry, F., Soares-Filho, B., Nepstad, D. et al. Environmental Management (2009) 44: 395. doi:10.1007/s00267-009-9337-1
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Logging has been a much maligned feature of frontier development in the Amazon. Most discussions ignore the fact that logging can be part of a renewable, environmentally benign, and broadly equitable economic activity in these remote places. We estimate there to be some 4.5 ± 1.35 billion m3 of commercial timber volume in the Brazilian Amazon today, of which 1.2 billion m3 is currently profitable to harvest, with a total potential stumpage value of $15.4 billion. A successful forest sector in the Brazilian Amazon will integrate timber harvesting on private lands and on unprotected and unsettled government lands with timber concessions on public lands. If a legal, productive, timber industry can be established outside of protected areas, it will deliver environmental benefits in synergy with those provided by the region’s network of protected areas, the latter of which we estimate to have an opportunity cost from lost timber revenues of $2.3 billion over 30 years. Indeed, on all land accessible to harvesting, the timber industry could produce an average of more than 16 million m3 per year over a 30-year harvest cycle—entirely outside of current protected areas—providing $4.8 billion in returns to landowners and generating $1.8 billion in sawnwood sales tax revenue. This level of harvest could be profitably complemented with an additional 10% from logging concessions on National Forests. This advance, however, should be realized only through widespread adoption of reduced impact logging techniques.