Thursday, August 16, 2013, President Correa of Ecuador announced a landmark decision to promote oil drilling in the Yasuni National Park, an area carrying the designation of being a ‘strict protected area’ — a rare category, setting it apart from the rest of the Western Amazon region. And this is occurring despite the provisions of the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, according to which Ecuador received millions of dollars worth of donations from those concerned about the potential impact of oil drilling in this region. The equivalent of $13.3 million US dollars donated to the cause since August 2010 came nowhere near compensating for the $3.6 billion in oil revenues, though. So drilling will resume.
While this situation is quite different from harvesting a renewable resource like lumber, it underscores some fundamental truths about rainforests and revenue.
Tropical forestry may not be ideal, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Simply looking at and studying the amazing biodiversity would certainly be nice. Especially in places like the Yasuní National Park and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which contain more species of animals and plants per acre than anywhere else in the world. Interestingly, this park also gives refuge to the Tagaeri-Taromenane people, who voluntarily live in isolation. For those of us who don’t live off the land like the Tagaeri-Taromenane, it doesn’t make sense to not be able to make money; this concept relates both to individuals and to developing nations.
Imagine that you own a farm and rely on raising and selling corn in order to buy the other things you need, and then having someone say that they’d prefer to enjoy the beauty of your corn fields. What if they suggested that you not harvest your corn, simply so they could enjoy the view? Well, if they agreed to pay you the amount you would normally earn from selling the corn, perhaps you would comply with their whim; such was the basic idea behind the Yasuni-ITT Initiative. Of course, the details of oil drilling impact the global ecology far more than a single farm, but the economic issues are still relevant to the discussion.
As much as Ecuador’s decision makes sense for their short-term financial situation, the fact that oil is not a renewable resource definitely makes the choice more complicated. When it comes to lumber, though, the renewable nature of these natural resources allow lumber exporting to positively impact exporting nations’ ecosystems and economies, over the long haul.
Because of the renewable nature of tropical hardwoods, tropical forestry aids in job creation and long-term additions to a country’s GDP. Responsible forestry management improves both quality and yield, providing a higher return for exporters. It’s a win-win. By contrast, when forests are clear cut for use as Palm oil plantations or cattle ranches, these beautiful rainforests and the ecology they promote cannot survive.
The next time someone tries to tell you that buying Ipe, Mahogany, or Teak is bad for rainforests, ask them if they know why the Yasuni-ITT Initiative didn’t work. The bottom line is that there is a bottom line. And the lumber industry helps everyone.