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Is sustainable logging possible in Africa's dense forest?

Karsenty A.. 2018. Bois et Forêts des Tropiques, 336 : p. 3-5.

This was the question raised in the early 1960s by René Catinot, a former research director with the French Tropical Forestry Centre, CTFT1, which would later become the Forestry Department of the CIRAD, and a historic figure in French tropical forestry. As Catinot describes, as soon as they arrived in tropical Africa, ¿the forestry engineers responsible for managing its dense forests embarked on efforts to regenerate them¿2. Knowledge on forestry in temperate regions was inadequate to the task of managing forests harbouring some 200 to 300 species but containing far less timber than any managed forests in temperate zones. A debate then arose over the merits of natural versus artificial regeneration. The problem with selective logging in tropical forests, especially in Africa, is that because the percentage of trees felled is very low, not enough light reaches the ground to encourage germination of the most commercially valuable species, which often tend to be light-loving. Catinot states categorically that it is not possible to ¿count on Nature alone to ensure their regeneration¿ 3. Silvicultural techniques therefore have to be applied to promote the development of these commercial species, either by ¿encouraging seeding and growth of pre-existing species¿ (silviculture based on natural regeneration) or by ¿transplanting noble species produced in tree nurseries into forests that have been exhausted by logging¿ (artificial regeneration): the word ¿noble¿ clearly reflects the conceptions of the time. The idea of ¿biological diversity¿ did not emerge until 1968 and it took several more years to understand that ¿biodiversity¿ does not mean just the sum of species, but all interactions between living organisms. What is Catinot, who clearly expressed the thinking of tropical foresters at the time, actually saying? Silviculture based on natural regeneration ¿is basically a slow and cautious destruction of the canopy¿ by removing lianas, clearing the undergrowth and poisoning ¿unwanted species¿. As for artificial regeneration, ¿again, the pre-existing forest has to be destroyed to give the new seedlings enough light for them to grow¿4. This kind of language would be totally unacceptable today, when ¿low-impact logging¿ is the order of the day and the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) programme of certification of ¿sound forest management¿ is questioning whether even low-impact logging is compatible with maintaining ¿intact forest landscapes¿.

Mots-clés : gestion des ressources naturelles; protection de la forêt; biodiversité forestière; régénération artificielle; régénération naturelle; impact sur l'environnement; exploitation forestière; forêt tropicale humide

Thématique : Foresterie - Considérations générales; Production forestière; Conservation de la nature et ressources foncières

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