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Central Africa is steadily giving way to industrial logging, a new research report shows.

The report, published today (8 June) in the journal Science, highlights the rapid expansion of the logging frontier in the Congo Basin, including Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo. It shows the need to conserve forested landscapes while also sustaining timber production crucial for Central African nations.

Central Africa, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo, contains the last frontiers for logging expansion in Africa, Nadine Laporte, a scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in the United States and one of the authors of the report, told SciDev.Net.

In Central Africa as a whole, 600,000 square kilometers of forest –– 30 per cent — has been conceded for logging, whereas only 12 per cent is protected.

Laporte and colleagues use satellite remote sensing to track the expansion of logging roads for the three decades preceding 2003. Road development provides a measure of the amount of logging that is taking place in forested areas.

They analysed four million square kilometres of the region, using over 300 Landsat satellite images.

The highest densities of logging roads are in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, where 15 per cent of the forest has been disturbed. The most rapidly changing area is in northern Republic of Congo, where the rate of road construction roughly quadrupled between 1976–90 and 2000–02.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which contains 63 per cent of the remaining forest of the region, only one per cent of forest has been disturbed by logging trails and tree-felling. But the analysis also reveals evidence of a new, expanding logging frontier, with an increasing rate of logging-road construction since 1986.

Laporte says that the impact of logging on the forest of Central Africa has not been recorded on such a scale before.

“It has never being timelier to monitor forest degradation in Central Africa because there’s still an opportunity to make a significant difference in reducing the amount of deforestation,” Laporte told SciDev.Net.

She says the ‘average citizen’ will be the one to determine the future of the forests in Central Africa.

“If the average citizen decides he only wants to buy certified wood, the industrial company will have to comply. If they do not care, the forests of the world, not just Africa, could be damaged beyond recovery.”

Demola Omojola, from the geography department at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, said people must become more aware of their environment.

“[People] believe in the concept of having inexhaustible natural resources, and the implication is that we are reckless to our environment and it is showing in the way we are losing biodiversity.”

Link to full paper in Science
Reference: Science 316, 1451 (2007)