Are we approaching ‘peak timber’ in the tropics?
Over the past few decades, tropical timber production in many Asia–Pacific countries has been akin to the symmetric logistic distribution curve, or ‘Hubbert Curve’, observed in the exploitation of many non-renewable resources—a rapid increase in production followed by a peak and then decline. There are three principal reasons why logging of native tropical forests resembles the mining of a non-renewable resource: the standard cutting cycle of 30–40 years is too brief to allow the wood volume to regenerate; tropical logging catalyses considerable deforestation; and the bulk of logging is undertaken by multinational corporations with little interest in long-term local sustainability.
Unless something fundamental changes, we believe tropical forests will continue to be overharvested and cleared apace, leading to an inevitable global decline in tropical timbers of non-plantation origin. It has become common these days to speak of ‘peak oil’. In the tropics, we suggest that we should also begin to discuss the implications of ‘peak timber’.
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