Deep in the Chiquitana tropical dry forest in southeast Bolivia, Noine Picanerai stands on a dirt road that cuts through lush woods. The 50,000-acre plot looks like a protected reserve. But, notes Picanerai, a woodsman in his 70s, “My people live off selling these trees.” Indeed, despite the forest’s pristine appearance, it’s a logging concession run by an indigenous Ayoreo community. The project, along with dozens of similar forest management programs across the Amazon region north of Bolivia, are making sustainable logging a reality instead of an oxymoron. “We aren’t like the other guys,” Picanerai says with a toothless grin. “We make sure the forest stays standing.”
Each year more than 30 million acres (12 million hectares) of the world’s natural forest are cut to satisfy global demand for wood and paper products. That deforestation, which reduces the planet’s carbon dioxide-absorbing foliage, causes at least a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions today. South American forest management projects — logging that assures tree regeneration — are quietly growing into key conservation strategies in the fight against climate change. “These programs are about making the standing forest worth something to governments and communities,” says Meg Symington, managing director for the Amazon for the World Wildlife Fund-USA, which supports sustainable forestry. (Read “Bolivia’s Eco-President: How Green Is Evo Morales?“)
Bolivia, specifically its indigenous communities and their NGO advocates, has been a pioneer of this effort, and communities in Brazil, Peru and the Guyanas have jumped on board as well. The Chiquitana venture, established in 2001 in the town of Zapoco by the Ayoreos and an NGO called APCOB, with government approval and monitoring, was Bolivia’s first indigenous-run forestry business. Its goal is to help save the dry forest — which is South America’s second-largest eco-system behind the Amazon rain forest, but whose trees are being felled at a faster rate than others on the continent — while giving the rural poor a shot at a living wage.