An estimated 200 million hectares of forest were lost between 1980 and 1995, three times the state of Texas, and the yearly global deforestation rate is estimated at about 16 million hectares. The news is not all grim, however. Forests are destroyed all over the world to make room for economic activities such as agriculture, ranching, and plantations, but overall strategies for the sustainable exploitation of non-timber plant resources are beginning to have some impact. Dr. Charles Peters of the Garden's Institute of Economic Botany has developed a protocol for the sustainable management of tropical forest resources which is now applied to dozens of projects worldwide by organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, and the World Bank.
The result of Dr. Peters' twenty-year experience in tropical forest conservation, this protocol offers a blueprint for the only form of land-use in the tropics with the potential to combine the exploitation of species-rich tropical forests for profit with the preservation of their biological diversity and ecosystem functions. This is accomplished through the regular monitoring of the ecological response of a species to varying degrees of exploitation.
The protocol is guided by two fundamental assumptions: non-timber resources can be harvested sustainably from a tropical forest given sufficient information on the current stock and productivity of the species involved, and data collection and monitoring activities are most effective when conducted by local people. Following Dr. Peters' guidelines, indigenous people in remote villages of Asia (http://www.nybg.org/events/prel_png.html), Africa, and Central and South America (http://www.nybg.org/events/prel_peru.html) have become decision-making planners and data analysts, selecting products for increased extraction and monitoring the impact in order to determine the sustainable yields of their forest resources.
For example, in the rain forest of West Kalimantan, Dr. Peters has been conducting long-term studies on the ecology and management of community forests in collaboration with the Indonesian Department of Forestry. Working with community groups in Borneo (http://www.nybg.org/events/prel_kali.html), he has found a way to generate more cash income for local farmers while conserving the rain forest. The project combines the sustainable harvesting of just three forest products: bamboo, rattan, and damar (http://www.nybg.org/events/prel_kali2.html) (a resin used in paints, varnishes, and inks). If collected within limits, Dr. Peters has determined, these renewable resources will grow back year after yearœproviding increased income for the farmers in this remote rain forest, while leaving the ecosystem intact. Indeed, comparative satellite images of these areas suggest the rate of forest clearing has stabilized.
Materials provided by New York Botanical Garden. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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