In their article in BioScience, Zimmerman and Kormos (2012) analyzed the impacts of industrial selective logging on tropical forests and concluded that it causes degradation—but that many small-scale community and private-landowner forest management systems lead to the protection of reasonably intact tropical forest ecosystems. Both conclusions can be questioned on the basis of recent publications. In particular, a new study published in Conservation Letters that reviewed more than 100 scientific papers concluded that 76% of the standing carbon and 85%–100% of the biodiversity was maintained in once-logged forests (Putz et al. 2012). The authors argued that logged forests should not be considered as degraded lands and therefore eligible for conversion into plantations or pasture but, rather, as lands with high conservation value. Moreover, improvement of forest management practices could further increase the conservation value of logged forests while maintaining their economic value (Sist et al. 2008).
Although small-scale forest management operations are generally considered less damaging than industrial logging, these systems are very diverse, and generalizations are dangerous. In many tropical regions, and particularly in the Brazilian Amazon, so-called “small-scale” forestry implemented by rural populations is in constant evolution; in many cases, rural populations implement mechanized industrial logging through partnerships with logging companies (Sist et al. 2011, Humphries et al. 2012). There is no reason why these forest management practices should better preserve the forest ecosystem than does the industrial selective logging that is ongoing in large concessions, especially where implementation of management plans represents a noteworthy step toward sustainability. There is therefore an alternative approach in which conservationists, governments, and local communities can work with logging companies to implement sustainable forest management practices that protect biodiversity and provide local communities with real economic benefits. Given that selectively logged forests retain substantial biodiversity, carbon, and timber stocks, we believe that improvements in forest management practices must be encouraged and are now likely if synergies are enhanced among initiatives to retain forest carbon stocks (e.g., REDD+ [Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation]), assure the legality of forest products, certify responsible management, and devolve control over forests to empowered local communities.