Skip to content

Science Wednesday: Sustaining Tropical Forests

2009 September 9

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

The Amazon basin contains more than half the world’s remaining tropical rainforest, and is facing unprecedented changes that will have major impacts on biodiversity, regional hydrology and the global carbon cycle.

But the need for employment is causing tropical deforestation on a vast scale.

Stopping deforestation requires forest management strategies that provide jobs for people living in or near forests while also creating incentives for forest conservation. The andiroba tree (C. guianensis)- valued for the high-quality oil extracted from its seeds and for its mahogany-like timber—could provide this opportunity.

Collect the seeds, cut down the tree, or a little of both?

image of author standing on a root of a big tree over waterThrough my research, I am looking at the intersection of conservation and economics related to harvesting C. guianensis. I am using ecological models with an economic component to answer the question: Under what ecological and market conditions would the collection of C. guianensis seed oil be favored and, conversely, under what ecological and market conditions would C. guianensis timber harvest be favored?

Since 2004, I have been measuring growth, survival and reproduction of C. guianensis trees at my research site in the Brazilian Agricultural Research Institute’s 1,200-hectare research forest in Acre, Brazil.

Using these measurements, I plan to fine-tune models about future tree growth under various management scenarios, as well as identify how different life stages, such as seedlings, saplings, mature trees, etc., contribute to growth of the entire tree population. For example, it is possible that leaving a certain number of reproducing trees per hectare would maintain a growing population, leaving other, non-reproductive trees to be harvested?

I will use the new model to determine sustainable harvest limits for both timber and seed, and then incorporate the results into a financial assessment of these two competing strategies to manage the species. To ensure that the tree population is maintained and that it generates income, I plan to compare the relative compatibility of timber vs. seed harvest.

After I finish writing up my results, I will return to Brazil to give a series of training workshops and seminars on my results so they can be applied to forest management practices. In addition, I will compile materials (including comic-book-like illustrated pamphlets) that break down my results into tools that can benefit forest residents and local nongovernmental organizations. By sharing my research results in this way, I hope that I can provide important information to the local Brazilian government and play a part in helping people living near the forest find a sustainable way to create income based on a standing (or managed) forest.

About the author: Christie Klimas is a PhD student at the University of Florida in the department of Forest Resources and Conservation. A 2004-2006 EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Research Fellowship supported her Master’s Degree research.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Lina-EPA permalink*
    September 9, 2009

    Interesting research, plus sounds like quite and adventure.

  2. Johnny R. permalink
    September 9, 2009

    So, you propose to save the remaining tropical forests by turning them into commercial enterprises? Interesting twist of logic to claim a moral purpose for an immoral act. Nevertheless, “sustainable growth” is an oxymoron that tries to hide the obvious growth of populations who need more resources than a healthy Earth can provide, and once a forests are gone, the depleted soil cannot grow another. But several more entrepreneurs will have joined a millionaire’s club (!) Unfortunately, even for them, a growing economy on a shrinking planet has no future.

  3. Johnny R. permalink
    September 9, 2009

    The time constraint for posting comments is such that it’s difficult to finish editing. The sentence should read: “…and once a tropical forest is gone, the depleted soil cannot grow another.”

  4. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    September 10, 2009

    This is timely research. The Governor’s Climate Action Team here in California had a public workshop today on their report to the Governor and Legislature on Climate Change. One of the regional changes that will have an impact on sea level rise is the continued deforestation of the Amazon Rain Forest and other rain forests as far north as Costa Rica. It is a good idea to look and see if something can be done to help the local people who are mostly Native Americans in more remote villages be able to sustain themselves. But another part of the whole should be controlling population growth because population is going up too fast; and the earth has a way of dealing with things that are out of equlibrium to put them back to sustainable levels. Thank you and best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  5. Christie K. permalink
    September 10, 2009

    My research is not applicable to the entire Amazon basin. It is focused on areas where communities are currently managing forest resources and still mired in poverty. I do not believe that my work is the overarching solution to deforestation. Indeed, I do not believe that there is a single simple solution to complex environmental problems like deforestation. Preservation is obviously an important part of addressing deforestation, but it is impossible in every context (kicking people out of land that they are currently living on is not a viable solution).

    I also think that your idea of a commercial enterprise may be different than the actual reality in forest communities. I doubt any entrepreneur would want to invest millions in these projects. They’re more on the scale of microcredit financing.

  6. P, Sr. permalink
    September 10, 2009

    CK, this is pretty interesting, and has sparked some interesting comment.

  7. Johnny R. permalink
    September 10, 2009

    My reply was censored by the forum staff. So, I’ll try again:

    Many scientists hide behind complexity to avoid the forbidden subject of overpopulation, the solution to which is also a forbidden subject: family planning clinics to help women decide if and when to birth their children.

    Commercial enterprises of all kinds are attacking the tropical forests, including cattle ranching, single crop megafarming, oil drilling, mining, small farming settlements, etc. ALL of it should be stopped because the tropical forests are essential for a healthy biosphere, planet Earth.

  8. Prabhat Misra permalink
    September 11, 2009

    Dear Christie, best wishes to you for the models which you will derive after your research. You have said in the reply of Johnny R. comment that kicking people is not the viable solution and said that preservation is impossible in every context. Dear Christie, nothing is impossible in nature. Your research work should include the mutual relationship between man and forests. Population is not the only cause of deforestation; the other causes includes urbanisation and industrialisation too. So, we should develop a model which include both man and biodiversity. One such model has been developed by me is RED TAPE MOVEMENT. In this, we go to a village and there first we teach villagers about the importance of trees and then by tying the RED TAPE on living tree trunk we give the message that to cut the tree is harmful to our survival and to biodiversity and nature equally. In this way at grass-root-level by launching such integrated movements we can save our forests as well as earth from the dangers of GLOBAL WARMING. I hope this example will be helpful to you in making models. Thanks. [Prabhat Misra, District Savings Officer, Etawah, U.P., India, blog: ]

  9. Jeffrey Levy, Director of Web Communications permalink*
    September 11, 2009

    We approve posts that meet the comment policy, which includes staying on topic.

    You can find the comment policy at


  10. Christie K. permalink
    September 11, 2009

    I agree that empowering women is a key in both poverty alleviation and environmental protection. Much work with communities focuses on empowering women, or increasing their contribution to household income. The government of Acre, Brazil where my field site is located) is building schools in rural forest communities. While not a panacea, this is a crucial first-step in offering opportunities to interested individuals.

    I believe that there is a place for all the commercial enterprises you’ve named. Some communities have “managed” forests for years without “forest destruction.” Indeed, archaeological records indicate that little to none of the Amazon is “pristine tropical rain forest.” I can send you the reference if you’re interested. I don’t say this to justify some of the large-scale destruction of rain forest. I just think that complete preservation of the Amazon basin is unrealistic. And as an American, I have to say that we cleared much of our frontier and to mandate that others not follow our example without offering viable alternatives (created in conjunction with those whose livelihoods depend on the enterprises you mention) is irresponsible and likely counterproductive.

  11. Christie K. permalink
    September 11, 2009

    It sounds like an interesting project that you’re leading. It is true that many communities have a wealth of knowledge about forest management. Indeed, some know much more than the researchers who come to study the forests! I know other researchers who deal with relationship between man and the forest. The field museum in Chicago also combines community goals with environmental preservation. Working together, communities and researchers have delineated new parks under community management.

  12. Prabhat Misra permalink
    September 14, 2009

    Thanks Chritie for reply. Today i am telling you the ‘BORLAUG HYPOTHESIS'; according to this hypothesis, “increasing the productivity of agriculture on the best farmland can help in controlling deforestation by reducing the demand for new farmland”. You should keep in your mind while producing the economic model for social forestry that it may not be more money oriented coz it may cause depletion of forests for money. Thanks Christie and my best wishes to you.

  13. Johnny R. permalink
    September 14, 2009

    I’m apologize, I didn’t notice your reply til now.

    The relentlessly growing population in South America will overwhelm the and destroy the Amazon rainforest. Nothing can stop it because growth is an instinct that few can think beyond, least of all the billions of poor people who grew up in overcrowded condtions that made better education a luxury they couldn’t afford. But a growing economy on a shrinking planet has no future. Peaceful family planning and 100% recycling of all waste and garbage is the obvious solution, but most people refuse even to talk about it, and that is the key to our human tragedy.

  14. Johnny R. permalink
    September 14, 2009

    Time constraint makes perfect editing very difficult. The first sentence should read “I apologize,…”

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS