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HOME > ON THE BOOKSHELF > March-April 1998 > Bookshelf Detail


Life Under the Canopy

David Peart

Conservation and Management of Tropical Rainforests: An Integrated Approach to Sustainability. Eberhard F. Bruenig. 339 pp. CAB International, 1996. $100.

Tropical rain forests are the most diverse ecosystems and, at least in affluent countries, the most charismatic. But few temperate dwellers have direct experience with rain forests or the realities of how people interact with what remains of this great biome. Eberhard Bruenig has been working on the ecology and management of tropical rain forests for over 40 years. He is one of only a handful of people with such breadth and depth of experience, and he has witnessed first hand the great changes that humans have wrought on rain forests in recent decades.

This book is Bruenig's synthesis of how we have exploited and influenced rain forests and how management needs to be changed. It begins with a long introductory chapter on the biological and physical features of rain forests. The remaining 10 chapters deal with human impact, mainly logging. Most of the book focuses on the technical aspects of forest harvest and management and the social and economic environment that influences management practices. The volume is well produced, with clear format and a beautiful cover.

Bruenig takes a strong position on several crucial and controversial management issues. He argues that we have enough technical knowledge in ecology and silviculture to manage rain forests sustainably for high timber production, ecological integrity and the conservation of biological diversity. According to Bruenig, the current destructive logging practices result from ill-informed policy at the national level and inept management and lack of trained personnel in the field.

Some conservationists and researchers maintain that the traditional emphasis on timber, relative to nontimber forest products such as medicinals, fruits, seeds and rattan, has been inappropriate and destructive. Bruenig dismisses these claims (with the exception of rattan in southeast Asia) on economic grounds. In a changing world, says Bruenig, no indigenous groups will be satisfied with the income these sources could provide, and it is unrealistic to hope that traditional forest-dwelling lifestyles can be maintained. Instead, he suggests working to ease the inevitable transitions and to minimize negative cultural and psychological impacts.

On another controversial issue, Bruenig claims that conservation-inspired boycotts have hurt fledgling efforts to manage the tropical timber resource sustainably, by reducing demand for highquality timber and increasing the dominance of markets that are insensitive to the sustainability of management practices. In contrast, the recent moves toward timber certification rely on cultivating more discerning markets for timber from well-managed, certified low-impact logging practices.

I recommend this book to foresters, policymakers, conservationists, development workers and tropical ecologists interested in the practical aspects of forest management. I make this recommendation in spite of several shortcomings of the book. It does not provide a good introduction to rainforest conservation and management for the inexperienced reader. The introductory chapter, although informative, is densely written and uneven in coverage. Throughout, the emphasis is on southeast Asian forests, particularly Sarawak, with relatively few references to Latin American or African examples. In places the organization of topics into chapters is inconsistent. Most unfortunate is the great reliance on sources that are not easily available. The evidence for some of the most important claims is unclear or based on unpublished reports (mostly in German). This will be particularly frustrating to the academic community. The book would have much greater impact if the evidence for and against the major points were clearly reviewed and could be independently evaluated by the reader. That job awaits another book, and I hope that one will appear before the mismanagement of tropical forests proceeds much further.

In spite of these rather severe criticisms, it would be a great waste if those concerned with the future of rain forests ignored Bruenig's book. His arguments carry the weight of experience and a clear personal commitment to developing practical solutions to difficult problems.—David Peart, Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College


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