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Developing eco-friendly logging

Published: November 23 2009

Vincent Medjibe

Graduate Student, School of Natural Resources and Environment

Logging is an important industry and offers many Third World countries hope of economic development. But when large trees are felled recklessly, they can wreak ecological havoc.

The falling timber smashes everything in its path, and vines running through its canopy act like cables, tearing limbs loose from neighboring trees. Experts estimate that for every tree crudely harvested, up to 30 trees are needlessly damaged or killed.

Vincent Medjibe wants to prevent these situations, common in low-tech logging operations in the tropics. A doctoral student from Central African Republic in UF’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, he’s researching the amount of forest being destroyed by low-tech logging in Gabon, as well as how much could be conserved if loggers used improved techniques to bring down big trees with a minimum of environmental damage.

This practice, known as reduced-impact logging, emphasizes preparation—determining where the tree should fall and how to put it there, cutting vines that connect its branches with other trees, and planning a route to drag the tree out of the forest.

Not only is it kinder to the environment, Medjibe said, it’s safer for workers and yields more usable lumber per tree than conventional methods. He’s the first to study the potential benefits of reduced-impact logging in Central African forests, because the practice hasn’t caught on there.

Here’s why: Reduced-impact logging requires more time and more fuel than cruder methods. But previous studies from countries such as Malaysia and Bolivia suggest that the practice actually has more financial and environmental benefits in the long run.

“The savings in yield more than make up for the extra cost,” he said. “This is what we’re trying to prove.”

Medjibe likes trees, but there’s another reason he’s pursuing this research—global climate change. Tropical forests hold enormous quantities of carbon, in the form of wood. So by preserving trees, he hopes to promote carbon sequestration.

After earning his doctorate, Medjibe, 35, may work in forest management in Central Africa. But he’s considering other options, all of them focused on sustainable management of Central Africa’s natural resources.

“I want to be involved in capacity-building, like training or teaching,” he said. “I also want to get information to policymakers, to help them make sound decisions on forest resources management.”