Title:  Conservationists at loggerheads over World Bank proposal 
Source: Copyright 2002 BioMedNet News, http://www.bmn.com/ 
Date:  November 7, 2002 
Byline:  William F. Laurance 
Conservationists and logging advocates are embroiled in a bitter 
controversy that could help determine the fate of the world's 
remaining tropical rainforests. Ironically, both sides argue that 
they have the best interests of forests at heart. 
Each year, about 15 million acres of tropical forest are logged, most 
of it virgin forest. Proponents of logging argue that selective 
timber-cutting (removing a small percentage of all trees with 
bulldozers and other heavy equipment) is the only economically 
realistic way that developing nations can justify retaining large 
areas of managed forest, rather than destroying it outright for 
agriculture. Many conservationists, however, argue that logging 
severely degrades forests and - even worse - that the loggers 
increase forest destruction by creating labyrinths of roads which 
give slash-and-burn farmers, hunters, and ranchers easy access to 
frontier areas. 
At the heart of the controversy is the World Bank's proposal to 
resume financial support for rainforest logging, in conjunction with 
other rural-development and conservation programs. Following intense 
criticism from environmental groups, the Bank halted funding for 
logging of primary forests in the early 1990s. But it now appears 
likely that the Bank will renew its support for timber-cutting under 
new, more restrictive guidelines. 
Conservationists fear the proposed policy will do more harm than 
good. Glen Barry, a conservation biologist at the University of 
Wisconsin at Madison, said that he "strongly condemns" the World 
Bank's plan and that, over the past decade, the Bank had "failed 
miserably to reform commercial logging in Papua New Guinea, 
Indonesia, Cameroon, and elsewhere." 
"The Bank likes to talk about 'sustainable forest management' as a 
euphemism for logging," he argued, "but all they truly care about 
sustaining is foreign exchange revenues and timber yields - not 
complex rainforest ecosystems." Barry cited a number of problems with 
the World Bank plan, including a need to protect old-growth and 
ecologically important forests from logging, and to safeguard forests 
from being converted to exotic timber and oil-palm plantations. 
The Rainforest Action Network, a San Francisco-based environmental 
group, contends that some World Bank activities - such as structural 
adjustment loans to developing nations that may fund logging 
operations - would fall outside the new forest policy, and can be 
very damaging ecologically. Last month, when two members of the group 
dangled a banner reading "World Bank: Don't Destroy Old Growth" 
inside a Washington DC building where World Bank President James 
Wolfensohn was holding a press conference, activist Jaya Remis 
complained that the Bank's proposed policy would "strip protection 
for the world's remaining forests." 
However, Francis Putz, an ecologist at the University of Florida and 
a leading advocate of sustainable logging, reacted very differently 
to the World Bank plan, saying he was "genuinely impressed" with the 
new proposal. "While I always have some reservations about big donors 
and big projects, I am pleased that the World Bank is going to 
support efforts to make forest management compatible with 
conservation and rural development," he said. He also asserted that 
the Bank's plan is "loaded with safeguards" and will not fund logging 
without first establishing strong ties to local communities, 
environmental groups, and other stakeholders. 
A former environmental advisor to the World Bank, Thomas Lovejoy, 
echoes these views. "I agree that the World Bank's activities need to 
be closely monitored," said Lovejoy, who is President of the Heinz 
Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. "Logging is a 
complex issue, but if we can't make tropical forests benefit local 
people and be commercially valuable, then many could just end up 
cleared and burned." 
Lovejoy also feels that the World Bank is striving to learn from its 
past mistakes and to develop good plans to promote sustainable 
logging. The current approach, he said, is to advance with caution 
and to recognize that "the devil is in the details." 
While conservationists and logging advocates debate the wisdom of the 
new World Bank plan, they agree about one thing: The success or 
failure of tropical logging as a sustainable-development activity 
could have an enormous impact on rainforest ecosystems worldwide. 
According to Putz, one's position in the debate may ultimately "come 
down to whether or not you trust the World Bank, for which strong 
arguments can be made on either side."