Have we learned nothing? 80 percent of the rainforests in Malaysian Borneo have been heavily impacted by logging, finds a comprehensive study that offers the first assessment of the spread of industrial logging and logging roads across areas that were considered some of Earth’s wildest lands less than 30 years ago. ENN reports
The research, conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Tasmania, University of Papua New Guinea, and the Carnegie Institution for Science, is based on analysis of satellite data using Carnegie Landsat Analysis System-lite (CLASlite), a freely available platform for measuring deforestation and forest degradation. It estimated the state of the region’s forests as of 2009.
The study uncovered some 226,000 miles (364,000 km) of roads across Sabah and Sarawak, and found that roughly 80 percent of the two states have been impacted by logging or clearing. At best, only 45,400 square kilometers of forest ecosystems in the region remain intact.
“The extent of logging in Sabah and Sarawak documented in our work is breathtaking,” said study co-author Phil Shearman of the University of Papua New Guinea. “The logging industry has penetrated right into the heart of Borneo and very little rainforest remains untouched by logging or clearfell in Malaysian Borneo.”
“There is a crisis in tropical forest ecosystems worldwide, and our work documents the extent of the crisis on Malaysian Borneo,” added lead author Jane Bryan of the University of Tasmania. “Only small areas of intact forest remain in Malaysian Borneo, because so much has been heavily logged or cleared for timber or oil palm production.
“Rainforests that previously contained lots of big old trees, which store carbon and support a diverse ecosystem, are being replaced with oil palm or timber plantations, or hollowed out by logging.”
Malaysian Borneo’s rainforests are home to a number of charismatic species, including Bornean orangutans, pygmy elephants, clouded leopards, proboscis monkeys, and Sumatran rhinos, which are on the edge of extinction. Its ecosystems also store vast amounts of carbon, which is released through forest degradation and clearance, land-clearing fires, and peatlands drainage and conversion to plantations.
The new analysis shows that logging and conversion have taken a heavy toll in the two states. One reason the impact of logging has been greater in Borneo than regions like Latin America and Central Africa is the nature of the island’s forests, which have a high density of commercially exploitable dipterocarp trees. Therefore loggers in Malaysian Borneo extract a much higher volume of trees per hectare, causing considerable damage and requiring longer harvest cycles. Low returns between harvests increase pressure to convert logged-over forests for timber and oil palm plantations.