Ecological limitations of reduced-impact logging at the smallholder scale

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Forest Ecology and Management


Reduced-impact logging (RIL) has many demonstrated benefits to the industrial logging operations for which they were developed. It is less clear whether these gains remain consistent in smallholder forest systems that increasingly play an important role in global conservation and that target a broader suite of outputs in their management schemes. We evaluate potential ecological consequences of five RIL components (pre-harvest inventories, harvest intensity, cutting cycles, skid trail planning, and liana cutting) when applied to small-scale operations in the Brazilian Amazon and provide suggestions for modifications to RIL guidelines for smallholder systems. Rapid assessment inventories of the entire landholding should be a part of crop tree selection to minimize inbreeding and recruitment failure. Additionally, while community-based taxonomists accurately identify species to common names, botanical samples must be verified with herbarium specimens to avoid market and ecological problems when multiple species share a single common name. We advocate that smallholder managers move beyond an emphasis on RIL guidelines, while still incorporating its basic tenets into practical application. Based on our analysis, this would include evaluating benefits of particular RIL components and assessing potential advantages that smallholders have over industrial operations. We suggest incorporating anthropogenically-generated forest patches of varying sizes and successional stages into a more formalized management system, incorporating and expanding on traditional ecological knowledge acquired over generations, and integrating enrichment plantings and tending of regeneration.