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National Audubon Society Builds Boardwalk from Ancient Trees Cut in the Brazilian Amazon

Dissection of "Utilization of Sustainably Harvested Tropical Hardwood Lumber for the New Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Boardwalk"

by Ed Carlson from a 1996 paper for National Audubon Society
Original Paper

With comments in red italics and hyperlinks by John Wall

BEFORE: Undisturbed, ancient forest on the FOREX-CEMEX concession 101 km south of Santarém, Pará, Brazil, from the FOREX-CEMEX website AFTER: Logging at the FOREX-CEMEX concession 101 km south of Santarém, Pará, Brazil, from the FOREX CEMEX website AFTER: FOREX-CEMEX sawmill, from the Forex-Cemex website
The source of Audubon's wood -- ancient trees taken from the FOREX-CEMEX concession, 101 km south of Santarém, PA, Brazil (photos from the Forex-Cemex website).

UPDATE: CEMEX, Audubon's supplier, is one of the Santarém Five, flagrant illegal logging companies. Greenpeace Amazon Expedition, October 2001. (pdf) "Cemex produced a forest management plan after completely making up an inventory of the amount of wood in a region, and then went on to ignore its plan by building roads that were not detailed in the plan, or cutting more wood than the volume authorized by the plan." Thus, the various "facts" about Cemex contained in the Audubon report reproduced below, all originating from Cemex, should be regarded as false unless proven otherwise.

UPDATE: Wood supplier SKC, Inc. is using the endorsement of the National Audubon Society to market old-growth rainforest wood. [See their false and misleading "Environment" page, with a photo of the Audubon boardwalk at the top.]

UPDATE: Ibama confirma nova devastação. 8 October 2004, Diário do Pará. Satellite images show that 3,000 additional hectares of forest have been cleared and prepared for soy plantations inside Floresta Nacional da Tapajós (across BR-163 from the Cemex concession) since the last survey six months ago. How inconvenient for the corrupt IBAMA officials, who take massive bribes from loggers and land grabbers! (But they catch and throw out any birders without permits.)

UPDATE: 21 July 2002: Corrupção responde por 2/3 do preço da madeira. O Paraense. Two-thirds of the price of wood in Pará goes for payoffs to IBAMA to launder illegal timber.

UPDATE: 6 January 2003: Fita e dossiê revelam grampo no Ibama de Santarém. O Liberal. Telephone conversations between a corrupt IBAMA official in Santarém and loggers including CEMEX secretly tape recorded. "O dossiê afirma que o madeireiro [CEMEX] tem 'acesso ilimitado' no órgão, embora a empresa em outras épocas tenha sido diversas vezes multada por retirar madeira da Floresta Nacional do Tapajós."

[I undertook a detailed markup of this paper in response to a thread on BirdChat. The fact that ancient, old-growth trees were felled to build a boardwalk for the National Audubon Society's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is about as material to the ongoing elimination of nature as the arrangement of deck chairs was to the voyage of the TITANIC.

However, in light of

(1) the lies arrogantly propagated by Audubon which they still have failed to correct or retract (i.e., "I can assure you that the wood used on the Corkscrew boardwalk is sustainably grown and harvested, and not cut from primary rainforest." E-mail posted on BirdChat from liar Stuart D. Strahl, Ph.D., President/CEO, Audubon of Florida, dated 10 September 2000);

(2) the participation by CEMEX (the logging company that provided Audubon's wood - unrelated to the Mexican multinational cement company with the same acronym) in the nearly complete deforestation of Atlantic Forest in the State of Espírito Santo;

(3) CEMEX's involvement in the notorious "Carlos Medeiros" 10 million hectare land theft and a recent (July 2000) Brazilian court decision against CEMEX enjoining it from deforesting land that was stolen from the State of Pará in the Carlos Medeiros fraud;

(4) the fact that the US agent for CEMEX tried to use its relationship with Audubon as a substitute for certification in bidding on another boardwalk project;

(5) continuing illegal and fraudulent conduct by CEMEX uncovered by Greenpeace (see below); and

(6) various other points deserving a response, I simply couldn't resist ripping apart the superficial and factually challenged Audubon report, which remained unchanged on their website, complete with all the original inaccuracies and mistakes, until they quietly took it down without any admissions or apologies sometime in 2005. Now Audubon is trafficking in the Ivory-billed Woodpecker hoax, another disgrace for a once leading bird conservation organization.]


We have been researching potential building materials for the new Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary boardwalk [picture] for several years. Numerous recycled plastic and chemically treated wood products have been considered. A test section of walk was constructed with TRIMAX recycled plastic posts and framing, and Ultrawood water-repellent copper chromated arsenate pine decking and handrails. These products produced a structurally sufficient and attractive walk, but leave us with a couple of potential problems and some unknowns. The TRIMAX offers a 50-year guarantee but has only been field tested for a few years. It is composed of recycled plastic and fiberglass mixture that sheds glass fibers that are irritating to the skin. It is also very flammable, making future prescribed burning an even more challenging activity. The Ultrawood does not leach detectable levels of copper chromated arsenate chemicals after kiln drying, but the eventual fate of old Ultrawood that must someday be replaced is a concern. It is also a new product and therefore the ability of both TRIMAX and Ultrawood to stand up to heavy foot traffic for many years is untested. [The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve in southern California has a boardwalk made of recycled materials. See photo.]

The Alternative

Tropical hardwoods have been in use many years. Portions of the Coney Island boardwalk were constructed of Ipê (Tabebuia serratifolia) [marketed as "Brazilian Walnut"] and have withstood over 40 years of use and exposure with no apparent wear. It has twice the strength and five times the hardness of pine and is extraordinarily fire resistant. It does not rot, decay, or succumb to termites and needs no chemical treatment. It is extremely attractive. Basically the tropical jungle has done millions of years of research and development to produce what may be the strongest and most durable wood on the planet. Ipê is imported into the United States by Greenheart Durawoods Inc. under the trade name Pau Lope (pa low'pay).

["Finally, the species of wood bid for by OC (Ocean City) were not available certified. This meant that, if OC lived up to the requirement, they could not use rainforest wood with this bid. But, there was a catch. Within the wording of the clause was a loophole allowing for another independent certification deemed 'acceptable' by the City. This clause was put in to specifically accommodate Greenheart Durawoods, Inc. (GDI), based in Bayville, NJ. This company was claiming that since the National Audubon Society had bought some of their wood, that this constituted 'certification', and they were counting on the clause allowing for use of their wood. They just didn't count on us. Four bids came in within the 10 days allowed, from four companies selling rainforest wood, including GDI. Local residents had just a few weeks (we thought) to counter this loophole. Rainforest Relief contacted National Audubon and 'explained' the situation. We obtained copies of letters of bidders. None had documentation of certification by an FSC-accredited organization. GDI stated in their cover letter that they believed that the Audubon relationship satisfied the certification requirement." Rainforest Relief Boardwalk Campaign.]

We will use Pau Lope for the new Corkscrew boardwalk because:

  • It is the best material available for this specific use, that is, outdoor decking in a subtropical climate subject to periodic fire. It will therefore results in the safest, most durable and attractive public boardwalk we can possibly build.
  • Purchase of this material from a reputable supplier utilizing sustainable forestry practices will reward sustainable forestry [The wood comes from ancient, old-growth trees, probably more than 1,000 years old. There is no reason to believe it is any more "sustainable" than other logging of ancient trees around the world. In fact, in current terminology, what formerly was called "sustainable logging" is now called "reduced impact logging", or "RIL", because a primary forest system subjected to "sustainable logging" clearly is not sustainable. The point of "sustainable logging" is to sustain profits, not the forest ecosystem, which is irreparably harmed. (See USDA FERA website)], thereby promoting its further development in the Amazon forest [i.e., promote additional logging of old-growth Amazonian forest] and preserve the structure, biodiversity and ecological functions of the tropical rain forest. [The best that can be hoped for from selective logging of old trees is to minimize disturbance to the "structure, biodiversity and ecological functions" of the forest. "Preserve" is inaccurate and misleading. Studies comparing the distribution of Amazonian birds in selectively logged and adjacent unlogged forests have found that selective logging results in a loss of more than 40% of the bird species. See Table 2 in "Effects of Selective Logging on a Bird Community in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest" by Alexandre Aleixo. Condor 101:537-548 (1999) (DjVu).]

The Issue

The ecological value of tropical forests and their well-documented destruction around the world will not be described here except for the following general comments obtained from the references listed at the end of this report. Temperate and boreal forests contribute 90% of the annual income of the world's timber trade. The usual harvest practice is clear cutting. Most tropical forest cutting has occurred in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia [plus West Africa, the West Indies, and the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, all of which are now nearly devoid of original forest], where clear cutting is prevalent. Because tropical forests in these regions are disappearing, lumber companies are looking to South and Central America and Africa for more wood. As of 1992, all of Latin America was contributing only 2.2% of the world tropical timber export values. [Most logging in Brazil, where the trees for Audubon were felled, has been for local consumption. "86% of the wood from Amazonia" is consumed in Brazil. Section 5A of October 1999 workshop report: Sustainable production of wood in Amazonia - Business opportunities.]

The Amazon

The Amazon region and forest is so huge and difficult to measure that size estimates are not consistent. An article in Time Magazine estimates the river and forest system at 2.7 million square miles, that is 1.7 billion acres, equivalent to 90% of the contiguous 48 states. The region includes nine countries and some land that is forested but perhaps not economically feasible to log. Brazil itself contains 349 million hectares of forest (862 million acres), equal to 46% of the entire lower 48 U.S. states. [See Monitoring of the Brazilian Amazonian Forest by Satellite, by INPE.]

During the l970's and 1980's, Brazil encouraged westward migration of its population into the Amazon region [with crucial financial assistance from the World Bank (i.e., U.S. and European taxpayers). The World Bank has neutralized "Big Green" -- the large environmental groups including the National Audubon Society that formerly were critical of its terrible environmental record -- by giving them small grants, including travel expenses. (pdf)] The total human population is 136 million, mostly concentrated in the eastern cities; only 4% inhabit the Amazon forest. The Trans Amazon highway, financed by the World Bank and Constitutional amendment, encouraged settlers to move west. Eight thousand families moved out of urban centers to pioneer in the rain forest. Unable to eat trees, they cleared and burned for farming and cattle ranching. The forests were clear cut; in some cases the economically valuable species were sold to loggers. During the dry season the slash was burned to create crop or pasture land. During this land rush, the clearing of Amazon forest was overestimated by the World Bank to be 31,000 square miles per year. Landsat satellite imagery by NASA showed the real rate to be between 5,792 and 8,158 square miles annually. [A study released in 1999 shows that the rate of land clearance has been much greater than that calculated from Landsat data, which picks up less than half of the actual damage done by humans to rainforests. "Large-scale impoverishment of Amazonian forests by logging and fire." D.C. Nepstad et al., Nature (1999) 398: 505-508. (Full text of article - pdf): "Overall, we find that present estimates of annual deforestation for Brazilian Amazonia capture less than half of the forest area that is impoverished each year, and even less during years of severe drought. Both logging and fire increase forest vulnerability to future burning . . . ."] Over time the subsistence farmers found crop yield to deteriorate and most returned to the cities. Cattle ranchers accumulated abandoned farm lands for grazing.

[Megaprojects with multinational financing have been quite important causes of forest loss. Some examples:

In 1967, Daniel Ludwig, an American shipping magnate, was given a concession to remove forest along the Rio Jarí in Amapá to install plantations of exotic trees for pulpwood. After 90,000 hectares of forest had been destroyed and the water and air polluted, the project turned out to be an economic failure as well.

In 1976, Volkswagen do Brasil, with government financial assistance (corporate welfare), established a 130,000 hectare fazenda in undisturbed Amazonian forest in southeast Pará, Fazenda Vale do Rio Cristalino. In the first year, Volkswagen firebombed an area of at least 9,000 hectares of forest, creating perhaps the greatest environmental holocaust of all time. This conflagration turned up on satellite photos from Skylab. (They were subsequently caught using slave labor to clear forest.) Volkswagen did nothing to restore the land they completely deforested and several years ago sold the fazenda to the Matsubara group of Paraná. (A Internacionalização da Amazônia, by Lúcio Flávio Pinto, Revista USP No. 13.) Now Fazenda Cristalino is being mined for uranium for shipment to China. (Cristalino: O Fim, by Lúcio Flávio Pinto).

The World Bank-financed Grande Carajás Program is causing terrible deforestation in eastern Amazonia. At the center is a mine and 25 privately-owned pig iron smelters, fueled by charcoal made from old-growth forest in a surrounding region as large as Britain and France combined. The iron is shipped out on the Carajás railway (also financed by the World Bank, i.e., American taxpayers) on which settlers pour into the remaining forest.]

The bottom line is that only 10% of the Amazon forest has been cleared. [Wrong by 40%!] In spite of the media coverage and bad press [Example? Certainly not in Audubon magazine, which regularly features glossy ads bought by big time plunderers and editorials praising stinking corrupt political hacks such as Bruce Babbitt.], 90% of the Amazon remains intact, but pressure still remains to clear land for farming and pasture. [Wrong again! The 90% figure has been tumbling downward as more has been learned about the Amazon. A study by the Woods Hole Center released in April 1999 found that Amazon forest has been vanishing at a rate more than double that reported by Brazilian authorities. A recent study found that degradation of much forest formerly placed in the "intact" category based on aerial photos is in fact so severe that only about 50% of Amazonia should be considered to contain primary forest. Daniel C. Nepstad et al., "Large-scale impoverishment of Amazonian forests by logging and fire." Nature 398: 505-508 (April 8, 1999) (pdf). Furthermore, a study by William Laurance of STRI and others found that under a "non-optimistic" scenario, pristine forests would be reduced to just 4.7% of Amazonia by 2020.] Much of the wood milled in Brazil is produced from clearing land for agriculture and ranching, not from loggers. Estimates of annual clearing range from 0.4% to 1.8% per year. Forest clearing has been reported to have dropped 34% in 1994 alone. (José Baranak, personal comment). [The reports cited above demonstrate that forest clearing has in fact accelerated, disproving the "personal comment" relied upon by Audubon. Furthermore, Audubon failed to disclose that José Baraneck (correct spelling) is the "Director-Presidente" of FOREX-CEMEX -- the logging company that supplied Audubon's wood -- and not an independent expert! La Maga, Buenos Aires, 1 April 2000.]

Since 1988, 34% of the 18,000-ha CEMEX forest has been divided into 50 ha-blocks.

[Finally, Audubon discloses where the wood came from - CEMEX (Comercial Madeiras Exportação, S.A.), part of Grupo FOREX-CEMEX. A book published by the UN in 1995 reports that CEMEX has a concession at Km 101 on the Santarém-Cuiabá Road (BR 163) (map). The concession, called Fazenda Treviso, is across the road from Floresta Nacional do Tapajós [map] in Pará, in which IBAMA has sold logging rights to CEMEX but from which birders were barred prior to 1993. (Are birders allowed into the CEMEX concession? Audubon, which in its early days was an organization of birders, apparently failed to ask.) "2,930 ha are managed on a 12-30-year cutting cycle . . . . On the first cutting cycle, 70 m are removed; it is not known whether this relatively high extraction rate is sustainable, since CEMEX has been managing forest for only six years." Amazonia - Resiliance and Dynamism of the Land and its People, by N.J.H. Smith et al. (UN University Press 1995).

LBA reported that "As of December 1998, a contract had been signed between IBAMA and a local logging company (CEMEX) for logging ~600 ha per year from 1999 to 2003 in the Tapajós National Forest. The 3200 ha area to be cut during the five years was defined, but the precise location to be cut in each year will be negotiated by CEMEX and IBAMA prior to the first harvest in 1999." (LBA Report, Section 4.2 (1)). [The facts that (1) the state superintendent of IBAMA was arrested in May 2000 for routinely demanding and receiving enormous bribes from logging companies (see below); (2) lower ranking IBAMA employees in Pará who approved a fraudulent logging scheme by CEMEX were placed under investigation in February 2000 (see below); and (3) three more IBAMA employees in Pará were filmed taking bribes from a logging company and suspended in October 2000 (ENN report, October 11, 2000) creates a strong inference of bribery by CEMEX to obtain the logging concession in Tapajós National Forest.]

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) website shows that FOREX-CEMEX has not been certified as "sustainable", in contradiction to the implication of the Audubon webpage. (See Rainforest Relief Boardwalk Campaign.) As of July 2001, three logging companies in the Brazilian Amazon have been certified by the FSC: Precious Woods Amazon, Gethal Amazonas, Juruá Florestal Ltda., and Cikel Brasil Verde S/A. (FSC Brasil website). Nor is FOREX-CEMEX among a group of 13 logging companies that recently met in Brazil to establish local "certification." (See Section 5A of October 1999 workshop report: Sustainable production of wood in Amazonia - Business opportunities.) [See the excellent exposé of wholesale abuses and rampant destruction on the FSC-certified Precious Woods Amazon concession. FSC Certification is a program to greenwash the logging of ancient forests for ignorant and gullible reporters and politicians.]

The FOREX-CEMEX webpage traces the history of the company. It was founded in 1952 and initially cut Araucárias in southern Brazil for export to Argentina, Europe and the U.S. In 1973, when Brazil's Araucária forests already were in serious trouble from overlogging, FOREX-CEMEX started cutting ancient Atlantic Forest hardwoods in the vicinity of Vitória, Espírito Santo. In the 1980s they began making flooring for export in Vitória. They shut down the Vitória operation in the 1990s, no doubt because the forests had been completely logged out. Trees are now scarce in the lowlands of Espírito Santo, except in two somewhat protected "islands" of forest, the Sooretama (24,000 hectares) and Linhares (22,000 hectares) reserves, which contain about 75% of the remaining tropical rainforest in ES. Consequently, the endemic forest birds are in serious trouble. Does the National Audubon Society consider the FOREX-CEMEX's wholesale clear cutting in Espírito Santo to have been "sustainable"?

Having contributed to the nearly complete deforestation of Espírito Santo, FOREX-CEMEX moved on to Amazonia. Their floor factory is now located in Santarém. FOREX-CEMEX also has 1,300 hectares of exotic pine monoculture (their idea of "reforestation") at Três Barras, SC. (Clibanornis não!)

A recent judicial decision links CEMEX to the notorious case of "Carlos Medeiros", which has been explained as follows:

"[The] case involves an area of nine million hectares distributed among 83 municipalities in Pará state in northern Brazil. It was registered under the name of 'Carlos Medeiros', who received the land in 'onerous assignment of hereditary rights'.

"They are lands Medeiros allegedly inherited from two Portuguese citizens and then sold to dozens of different people and businesses. However, they were previously public lands, belonging to the national and state governments.

"Investigations concluded that 'Carlos Medeiros' never existed. Even his supposed lawyers could not locate him. Using a fictitious owner was apparently the method they chose to illegally appropriate the land." Government targets large landholdings, by Mário Osava, IPS, July 17, 2000.

The "Carlos Medeiros" scam is explained in a White Paper on Land Grabbing in Brazil by the Ministério de Desenvolvimento Agrário under the heading "O caso do fantasma Carlos Medeiros."

A Belém newspaper reported the decision against CEMEX as follows:

"Federal judge Dimis da Costa Braga has prohibited any economic exploitation or deforestation of three properties belonging to Cemex Comercial Madeiras Exportação S/A. The public civil action was put forward by the Federal Public Ministry, the Attorneys-General of the Republic, and by INCRA (the National Institute for Colonisation and Agrarian Reform) because the land is owned in the name of Carlos Medeiros, an individual believed not to exist, and thus the land is believed to be illegally owned. The judge has also required that Cemex produce the address of Carlos Medeiros, with a daily R$ 10 thousand fine for non-compliance."

"CEMEX penalized for irregular land use", English version of article appearing in O Liberal, Belém, 4 July 2000. [Formerly posted on] Original article: "Proibida retirada de madeira em fazendas", by Celivado Carneiro.

Earlier in 2000, O Liberal reported:

"In order to end this [Carlos Medeiros] charade, the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) has begun an administrative process that requires IBAMA to produce clarifications of all the PMFS's (Sustained Forest Management Plans) that were granted to property titles under the name Carlos Medeiros.

"The most recent such case involves the timber company Cemex, which presented IBAMA with land deeds under the name of Carlos Medeiros." "Ghost" Landowner Behind Much of the Devastation of the Environment. English version of article appearing in O Liberal, February 1, 2000. [More detailed Portuguese original: "Fantasma está por trás da devastação do meio ambiente.]

Another article reports on Cemex involvement in the Carlos Meideros land fraud as follows (rough translation from Spanish):

"The most recent case was in an area of 140 square kilometers in the municipality of Santarém sold by 'Meideros' to CEMEX. The parcel included an area destined for use by INCRA (Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária) for 450 peasant families without land. The case was discovered when tractors began to uproot trees on the property. The families complained, and CEMEX had to withdraw. The Director-President of CEMEX, José Baraneck, assured that it purchased the lands without knowing that they were involved in a fraud." "El fantasma de la Amazona: Carlos Medeiros no existe, pero es dueño de 120.000 kilómetros cuadrados de selva en Brasil." By Klester Cavalcanti. La Maga, Buenos Aires, 1 April 2000.

The CEMEX Carlos Medeiros property -- Colônia Igarapé da Anta, Colônia Rio Curuá-Una and Fazenda Favarato -- apparently was in the vicinity of the forest from which ancient trees were felled for Audubon's boardwalk. "MPF denuncia Cemex por exploração ilegal de madeira." Gazeta de Santarém, 19 December 1999.

Finally, an article in O Estado de São Paulo reports on a case of corruption by IBAMA employees involving CEMEX and "Carlos Medeiros" land. While the IBAMA superintendent in Pará was away, other staff approved a plan to allow CEMEX to log 124,000 cubic meters of wood from 3,000 hectares in Pará, even though CEMEX claimed to have received title from the non-existent 'Carlos Medeiros.' (In May 2000, the same IBAMA Superintendent was arrested for bribery. In one case alone he demanded a bribe of $1.5 Million Reais to keep quiet about an illegal timber shipment by Japanese loggers. Three more IBAMA employees in Pará were suspended for taking bribes in October 2000.) "IBAMA investiga funcionários envolvidos na aprovação de projeto irregular no Pará." O Estado de São Paulo, February 21, 2000.]

Forest inventories confirm the annual growth rate of primary forest to be about 2 cubic meter per hectare per year. Based on these inventories, IBAMA (The Brazilian Department of Interior) permitted CEMEX to harvest 70 cubic meters per hectare with a cutting rotation [of additional old-growth trees] of 20 years. However, CEMEX is harvesting only 35 cubic meters per hectare and it voluntarily added 5 years to the cutting rotation (25 years). [Using Audubon's figures, 10% of the 1,000 year-old trees would be cut every 25 years. Thus 50% of the old-growth will be gone in 125 years and 100% will be gone in 250 years. The vines and leaf tangles upon which many arboreal birds depend will be eliminated long before the trees are gone. Without additional disturbance (i.e., if AIDS were suddenly to become as contagious as the common cold), in 800 years something resembling the original forest may have regenerated.]

Forestry in the tropics is completely different from the temperate regions. Over 2,000 species of trees have been identified in the Amazon. On average 150 species per hectare occur on CEMEX lands. Only 30 of these have commercial value, and of these, only 2 - Ipê and Jatobá [misspelled "Jatobe" by Audubon] ­ make up 50% of the harvest. Clear cutting is not practiced by loggers. Tree cutting takes time, fuel, and equipment and is not economically feasible in this tropical forest. Only 10% of the canopy is removed; 90% remains intact. [The claimed 10% loss of canopy is quite obviously too low. LBA estimates that CEMEX selective logging "will probably damage >30% of the canopy." (LBA Report, Section 4.2 (2)). Even if the 10% figure were accurate, another 10% would be lost every 25 years. In the absence of a citation to an independent study of the FOREX-CEMEX concession, the data furnished to Audubon by FOREX-CEMEX and reported uncritically as fact in the Audubon report should be disregarded as logging industry propaganda.

Furthermore, in completely closed canopy forest like that at Km 101, removal of even 10% of the canopy would have a severe impact on microhabitats within the forest, particularly as another 10% of the old-growth trees are removed every 25 years. In direct analogy, the leading authority on Orangutans in Sumatra has written: "A single round of selective cutting reduces orangutan density to less than half, and continued timber removal drives the animals locally extinct. Most adult orangutans do not leave areas that are degraded; hence, many succumb to starvation and disease." Situation at Orangutan Station Suaq Balimbang critical - Orangutan viability in the wild increasingly questionable, by Prof. Carel van Schaik, June 1999.]

Standard logging practice at CEMEX removes 6 trees per hectare, each tree averaging 5 cubic meters (2,120 board feet). They do not return to the cutting blocks [to cut down additional ancient trees] for 25 years. They monitor growth rate intensively after cutting and have documented an increase in growth from 2.5 to 3 cubic meters per hectare due to thinning of the canopy.

In addition, old growth examples of commercial species are protected for natural regeneration (seeding). [How many and for how long? With 25 year cutting rotations, all the old trees would be gone in only 250 years. In all likelihood, what's left of the forest will be converted to a soya plantation in the near future after the largest and most valuable trees are stripped out.] These are called matrix trees.

During my visit, I toured the cutting blocks and observed areas logged from seven to one year ago as well as unlogged primary forest. I was not able to visually distinguish between these cutting blocks and unlogged forest because of the density of large non-commercial species and the presence of old growth commercial species. [Citations to studies of the effects of selective logging of primary forest on forest ecology and wildlife would have considerably more relevance than the brief, personal observation of an inexperienced and obviously incompetent observer.]

CEMEX continues to refine their logging practices based on monitoring. They initially practiced control of non-desirable species by girdling and herbiciding some [non-economic] species of trees and vines. Having determined this is no longer necessary, they have eliminated these practices.

In the area of human resources, CEMEX employs over 1,000 people and supports over 8,000 indirectly. [In other words, a massive corporate logging operation.] CEMEX provides medical benefits and training opportunities for its employees. In addition, the forest employees receive housing, running water, electricity, schooling, and medical care. Neighboring subsistence farmers have none of these benefits. The forest staff also grows all its own food for employees. Occasionally adjacent subsistence farmers are recruited into the forest operation with these benefits. [Question: How did Grupo FOREX-CEMEX obtain title to a vast area of ancient, undisturbed forest just south of the Amazon? Did they receive title laundered through the "Carlos Medeiros" land grab fraud? How much was paid in bribes? To whom? "In the state of Pará, bribing the mayors, police, lawyers and judges was commonplace." (Hecht & Cockburn (1990) 168). Those who could not obtain titles made their own. The land was roadless, undisturbed wilderness prior to construction of the Santarém-Cuiabá Road (around 1970). At least one Indian tribe, the Kreen-Akrore (Panará), was nearly exterminated in the process, as documented by Adrian Cowell in "The Tribe that Hides from Man", a Channel 4 documentary and book. They lived much farther south, ranging northeast of the Rio Teles Pires, near the Pará/Mato Grosso border (e.g., Cachimbo, PA) in an area now largely deforested. It seems that Indians also lived on the FOREX-CEMEX concession, as the survivors are now demanding title to parts of the adjacent Tapajós National Forest and that FOREX-CEMEX not be allowed to log the National Forest while their claim is pending. "Residents of the FLONA do Tapajós want deeds to the land." O Liberal. 17 December 1998.]

At the mill occupational safety is a concern and employees wear eye, ear, and nose protective gear. [Demonstrably false! Disproven by the photo (above) of a worker operating a giant saw in the CEMEX sawmill, linked directly from the FOREX-CEMEX website! The worker is not wearing hearing protection "headphones", and he is using only a disposable paper dust mask which provides inadequate protection from the quantity of dust generated in a sawmill. It isn't clear from the photo whether he is wearing eye protection, but he appears not to be. Before parroting logging company propaganda, it would be prudent for Audubon at least to look at the loggers' own website.] The mill has invested heavily in an elaborate sawdust control system that vents the dust to kilns that produce heat to dry milled lumber.

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable forestry is a complex concept without a simple definition. [Not at all. Here is a definition based upon the facts and industry propaganda set forth in the Audubon paper: "Sustainable forestry" is a slogan designed to neutralize criticism by environmentalists about the logging of ancient, old-growth forests. It consists of selective logging of the oldest and largest commercially valuable trees over time, resulting eventually in a second-growth forest with no old-growth trees, no closed canopy, no habitats for many mid-storey and canopy bird species, and as high as possible volume of commercially valuable wood. Species dependent upon old-growth primary forest are accorded no value by "sustainable forestry." Indeed, even FSC certification is done without input from experts on tropical birds and amounts simply to greenwashed primary forest destruction. See the excellent exposé of the fiasco at Precious Woods Amazon, the first FSC-certified "sustainable" logging operation in Brazil. Nicole Fremis & Klemens Laschefski, "Seeing the Wood from the Trees." The Ecologist, Vol. 31 No. 6, July/August 2001.] The rain forest is so diverse and complex that no one totally understands all the interactions and processes. However, sustainable forestry seeks to

  • inventory the standing biomass of the forest,
  • protect rare species [In fact, the habitats of the most endangered bird species are obliterated by logging as practiced by FOREX-CEMEX.],
  • maintain totally protected setbacks along streams and watercourses,
  • allow a specified volume of [ancient, old-growth] wood to be harvested,
  • adjust the cutting rotation so that the volume harvested is regrown before the next cutting [They'll never support 1,000 employees cutting "regrown" trees. This is old growth logging. Period. They take the view expressed by former President Ronald Reagan about ancient redwoods, that "a tree is a tree." Thus, as young trees grow, they will cut more old trees, on the assumption that all that matters is board-feet. So long as the number of board-feet of timber on their land increases (not counting the ancient trees they have removed), they maintain that no harm has been done to the forest. Is that the position of the National Audubon Society? It certainly appears to be.],
  • maintain biological diversity by preserving mature examples of commercial species [Quite obviously, Audubon's definition of "biological diversity" doesn't include primary forest birds.], and
  • minimize or eliminate control of non-desirable species. [What does Audubon mean by a "non-desirable species." Does that include non-valuable species of trees that comprise the bulk of the forest biomass?]

The Brazilian government still grants land to those who "improve" it by clearing. [That policy was supposed to have ended in 1991, before the Audubon paper was posted.] Logging companies purchase land and expend significant amounts of money to [pay bribes and] produce sustainable forest management plans required by the government. Again, clearing for agriculture and ranching does not require a plan and the cleared land is given away by the government to those who clear/improve it! [That supposedly ended in 1991.] That is why the number one recommendation of the tropical forestry workshop convened by the Smithsonian Institution was "Tropical forests will be preserved only if they are accorded economic value." (Lovejoy 1990).

The CEMEX forest

CEMEX (Comercial Madeiras Exportação or Commercial Wood Exporters) is headquartered in Rio de Janeiro. It employs over 1,000 people [so the 1,000 people aren't all at Km 101] and is (sic) primary product is wood flooring. CEMEX maintains a sawmill in the city of Santarém along the Amazon River that receives 80% of its supply from its own forest and 20% from others. The long-range ["long-range" for loggers is considerably shorter than long-range for the forest] plan is to be completely supplied by its own 18,000-hectare (44,460 acres) forest. All wood supplied to Audubon comes from CEMEX forests.

In May 1995, I met with company principles (sic -- Freudian slip?) in Rio and then traveled to the mill and forest some 2,000 miles away. [Nice junket!] CEMEX people are extraordinarily open about their forestry and business practices. [At least if you don't ask embarrassing questions about bribery and land grabbing.] In 1993 they hired an outside consultant [whose scientific qualifications were?] to do a case study of their forest, and have hosted professionals [professional travelers] from numerous organizations including the BBC, World Wildlife Fund, Tropical Forest Foundation, International Tropical Timber Organization, and National Audubon. Portions of the Sean Connery movie "Medicine Man" were filmed in the CEMEX forest. [CEMEX financials and land title histories would have been of considerably greater interest than celebrity name-dropping.] Johan Zweede, a forest consultant for the Tropical Forest Foundation, described CEMEX as one of the most reputable forestry operations in Brazil. [Who's who in the Tropical Forest Foundation: Peter Schlobach, Crown Hardwood Veneer Corp., President; Robert Petterson, Caterpillar, Inc., First Vice President; Donald L. Schramm, Georgia-Pacific Corporation, Treasurer; Manfred Schwartz, Stihl, Inc., Member of the Board. Stihl chainsaws are the worldwide favorite for cutting tropical forests. Some environmentalists!] In a personal telephone call to Mr. Zweede, he reiterated that sustainable forestry is a developing science [What rubbish!] in which CEMEX is one of the companies that "really cares." [Absolutely sickening! Did they "really care" about the no longer existent ancient forests of Espírito Santo they helped destroy? Quite obviously, they "really care" about profits and public relations.]


  • The Amazon region is an incredibly diverse tropical rain forest [and becoming less so day by day.]
  • Estimates of deforestation for the entire region have been exaggerated and 90% of the Amazon is intact [False! Such estimates lacked any factual basis and have been proven to be wrong.]
  • The Brazilian government still encourages deforestation by granting land to those who clear cut all forest trees for farms and ranches [False!]
  • The majority of forest clearing is for farming and ranching [In the past, but the trend has been toward intensive logging, particularly since Asian loggers have moved into Brazil.]
  • Logging operations purchase [steal] primary forest and expend significant funds to produce required forest management plans [In light of CEMEX's involvement with fabricated "Carlos Medeiros" land titles, conservationists should demand to see evidence of a "purchase" of the primary forest, and, indeed, the entire chain of title from the time when the local Indians were exterminated.]
  • Loggers target 30 species of a total of 2,000, distributed on the average of 150 species per hectare
  • Clear cutting for forestry purposes is not economically feasible [Asian woodchip operators often cut every tree, leaving completely barren landscapes, as this paper admits above. There is no reason to believe that they will not do the same in South America. What's to stop FOREX-CEMEX from selling out to Malaysian loggers or soybean planters after a couple of cutting rotations that skim off the largest, most valuable trees? The Cuiabá - Santarém road is about to be paved. In anticipation, the soybean industry is acquiring Amazonian forest near the road in preparation for total annihilation of the forest and wildlife and replacement with soybean monoculture.]
  • Selective logging harvests 6 trees per hectare and leaves 90% of the canopy intact [False! As quoted above, LBA ecologists state that one round of CEMEX logging will destroy more than 30% of the canopy. Here is a challenge to Audubon - send some competent, independent observers to the FOREX-CEMEX concession for surveys of the state of the habitat and birdlife in selectively logged forest and, as a control, in nearby, comparable primary forest (if any remains) and continue the surveys for the foreseeable future.]
  • CEMEX goes beyond government regulations to reduce allowable harvests by one half and increase cutting rotation to 25 years [Proposal only, subject to change at any time, and ridiculously short for a forest in which the large trees are more than 1,000 years old.]
  • Sustainable forestry is an evolving science [It's not a "science." Logging primary tropical forest simply is not sustainable. "Sustainable forestry" is a business tactic designed to neutralize environmental objections to old-growth logging.]
  • All forums addressing tropical forest destruction agree that giving the forest economic value is the key to long term protection of biodiversity and ecological function. [There are values other than logging, which imposes tremendous social costs and long-term harm for profits by the corporate elite in Rio de Janeiro and relatively small bribes to corrupt government officials.]

This quote by Ovidio Gasparetto, an expert on resources in the Amazon, sums things up very well [Ovidio Gasparetto of Amazonex, S.A., is described in this ENS article as "a representative of the industry sector"]:

"In Amazonia, with a population of 16 million people and an area larger than all Western Europe, with a lack of qualified labor and without minimum essential financial resources, it is a task for giants to obtain socioeconomic development without allowing deterioration of the natural environment.

"Nevertheless, it is not an impossible one because the population is still scarce, and the problems are still perfectly controllable. As a biomass and as a representative of biological diversity, one of the richest in the world, it is still almost intact, suffering no desertification, 90% of its forest are still alive, robust, vigorous. [False!]

"If and when we convince the cattle-raisers to stop forest clearing; we start monitoring and give orientation and training to the small landowner in techniques which include the reposition of organic matter in the soil, so avoiding the need for slashing-and-burning; when we increase awareness in the timber industry which is something that is already happening but which needs to be accelerated; that the laws made to guarantee sustainability of the reserves are observed; when we are able to influence the import traders to cooperate in a reformulation of their criteria and demands; when those NGO's that concern themselves so much with the tropical forests renounce sensationalist, critical television programs and adopt the round table approach to discuss problems and solutions with us [Translation: "We, the logging industry, demand that environmental groups suppress information about what is really going on in Brazil (e.g., death squads, Indian extermination, slave labor, massive deforestation, illegal logging and poaching, bribery, fraud, etc.) and cooperate with the industry."]; then we will be getting closer to the compatibility of development and conservation of Amazonia's resources. Let us bring our together minds (sic -- Didn't anyone at Audubon read this drivel before posting it on the Audubon website?) on solutions to the problems which unite us and not on the conceptual of operational differences which separate us."

By purchasing tropical hardwood lumber from one of the most reputable timber companies in the Amazon region [emphasis added], we are stepping forward, recognizing, and rewarding those practicing sustainable forest management. Considering who we are, this will undoubtedly accelerate awareness of the role of sustainable forestry in the protection of the Amazon rain forest.

Research materials:

"Conserving Biological Diversity in Managed Tropical Forests." Proceedings of a workshop held by IUCN Forest Conservation Program. edited J.M. Blackhus et al, 1992.

Defining Sustainable Forestry. The Wilderness Society. edited G.H. Aplet et al. Island Press.

Restoration Forestry, An International Guide to Sustainable Forestry Practices. editor M. Pilarski, Kiuaki Press.

"The Compatibility of Development with the Preservation and Conservation of Resources in Amazonia." lecture by O. Gasparetto to 2nd International Congress of Tropical Timber, 1994.

"CEMEX, A case study of a Forest Industry in the Amazon Area." J.D., P. Siqueira, 1993.

"Playing with Fire," Time Magazine. E. Linden, September 18, 1989.

"Consensus Statement on Commercial Forestry, Sustained Yield Management and Tropical Forests." Tropical Forestry Workshop, Smithsonian Institution, 1989.

More Relevant and Authoritative References:

"Effects of Selective Logging on a Bird Community in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest" by Alexandre Aleixo. Condor 101:537-548 (1999) (DjVu). Based on studies at Parque Estadual Intervales, Sete Barras, SP. The effects of selective logging on birds have been found to be most severe in Amazonia. (See Table 2, p. 541, citing Thiollay 1992, Johns 1991 and Mason 1996):

"Damage caused to vegetation structure by logging cannot explain why Amazonian bird communities are more sensitive to logging than southeast Asian ones, because the damage in Dipterocarpaceae forests is one order of magnitude higher than in Amazonia (Mason 1996). The heavier effect of logging on Amazonian, when compared to Atlantic Forest and southeast Asian bird communities, can also be due to historical differences in the evolution of their avifaunas. A smaller proportion of Amazonian species use secondary habitats than in other areas of the Neotropics, such as the Atlantic Forest and Central America (Stotz et al. 1996). Similarly, a very high proportion of Amazonian species are intolerant to disturbance (Stouffer and Bierregaard 1995, Robinson and Terborgh 1997), which contrasts markedly with what is observed in southeast Asian bird communities (Wong 1986, Lambert 1992). So far, long-term studies have shown that richness and diversity of bird communities in tropical logged forests are similar to those of unlogged forests, except in Amazonia, where an unrivaled area of tropical forest allowed the evolution of a forest bird community with more strict habitat requirements." (p. 544)

"Pará's sustained development projects revealed to be doing more harm than good." English version of an article from the Gazeta de Santarém, 2 May 2000, formerly posted on ". . . the current model for timber extraction in the west of Pará, characterised by sustained forest management, is extremely predatory, and impacts the sustainability of natural resources in the region. . . . the current system is not being implemented in either a legal fashion, or an environmentally sustainable one. Current timber extraction methods do not live up to the demands required for sustainable development, but are camouflaged to look as if they were proceeding as expected. Ferreira has also found that the selective timber extraction processes currently under way are just as damaging, if not more so, than traditional methods."

Facing destruction: A Greenpeace briefing on logging and the timber industry in the Brazilian Amazon. Catherine Cotton & Traci Romine. (1999) (pdf).

O mesmo relatório em português sem as fotos: Face a Face com a Destruição. Relatório Greenpeace sobre as companhias multinacionais madeireiras na Amazônia Brasileira. (doc)

"Jungmann quer anular títulos de grilheiros: Ministro vai trabalhar dois dias em Manaus para fiscalizar a grilagem de terras na Amazônia." O Estado de São Paulo, 6 January 2001. "Segundo o Incra, dos 157 milhões de hectares de toda a Amazônia, 50 milhões foram grilados." (According to Incra, of the 157 Million total hectares of land in Amazonia, 50 Million hectares have been claimed by land grabbers.)

"TCU investigará ações do governo contra grileiros." O Estado de São Paulo. 17 February 2001.

"Madeira certificada conquista mercado inglês." More than 20% of the wood consumed in England is certified by the FSC. (FSC Brasil website.)

11 October 2001: A Greenpeace activist in Amazonian Brazil received a death threat after Greenpeace exposed continuing, massive illegal logging by CEMEX (the source of Audubon's wood) and other leading Brazilian timber companies. Marcelo Marquesini of Greenpeace said: "As empresas alegam que estão produzindo de maneira sustenável, mas estão enganando os consumidores." [The companies claim that they are producing wood sustainably, but they are deceiving consumers.] Greenpeace reports the following about CEMEX (footnote 2): "Em 2000, comprou madeira das empresas-fantasma ZENO Industrial e J.S. Madeiras; três planos de manejo foram cancelados pelo MPF por estarem localizados em terras da União. A empresa comprou ainda 2.300 m3 de toras provenientes de desmatamento." [In 2000, CEMEX bought wood from nonexistent sham companies ZENO Industrial and J.S. Madeiras; three forest management (destruction) plans were cancelled by the MPF (Ministério Público Federal) because they were located in "terras da União", which as used here apparently means Indian reserves. CEMEX nevertheless bought 2,300 cubic meters of timber originating from (illegal) deforestation of those lands.] See the Greenpeace report for additional details about the ongoing plunder of undisturbed Amazonian forests: "Apesar de ameaça de morte, Greenpeace protesta contra destruição da Amazônia no Pará: Relatório da organização aponta madeiras envolvidas com madeira de origem ilegal e perdatória." Greenpeace Brasil website.

2 February 2002: Grandes empresas são supeitas de grilagem na Amazônia. O Paraense. (Large corporations, including Bradesco and the owners of Projeto Jarí, are suspected of illegal land-grabbing in Amazonia.)

14 March 2003: Brazilian leader introduces program to end slave labor. By Larry Rohter, New York Times. There are an estimated 25,000 slaves in Brazil, most of them in remote areas of Amazonia.

22 April 2003: Trabalho escravo é descoberto em área do Incra. 70 slave laborers were discovered on an INCRA "agrarian reform" estate near Santarém. Agrarian reform in Brazil consists of habitat destruction for the benefit of the politically connected elite. This estate must have failed to pay the usual bribes.

8 July 2005: More invasions in certified timber areas. Translation of article from Diário do Pará. The tracts of ancient Amazonian forest through which logging roads have been built for FSC-certified "sustainable logging" are now being invaded by "sem terras", well-organized armies of peasants whose leaders work in close cooperation with land grabbers and corrupt politicians. Selective logging concessions are especially attractive targets for land grabbers, as easily accessible old-growth trees remain near the logging roads. They can be cut down and sold before the land is converted to soybean plantation. In 1997, I observed an army of sem terras camped alongside one of the few accessible tracts of forest in northeast Paraná, poised to invade. The only way to get rid of them (other than bribery) is to hire pistoleiros (gun-slingers), as the police are either paid off or afraid to act. (A much smaller though somewhat analogous version in the U.S. is Al Sharpton's "rent-a-demonstration", part of the cost of which includes deluxe accommodations and food for the mail order "reverend".) Sem terras have invaded and destroyed important forest and cerrado reserves, often those that were most easily accessible, such as the municipal forest in Manaus.

UPDATE: 19 December 2005. Presidente do Banco Mundial visita projetos comunitários na Floresta Nacional do Tapajós. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, an as yet unpunished leader of the Neocon cabal responsible for Bush the Younger's illegal wars of aggression, visited FLONA Tapajós to publicize World Bank financed old growth logging in the reserve, with a few other projects for the local caboclos thrown in to make it appear to be a "multiple use" grant.

UPDATE: Simone Vieira et al. Slow Growth Rates of Amazonian Trees: Consequences for carbon cycling. PNAS 102(51): 18502-18507 (December 20, 2005) (pdf)

UPDATE: Brazil to pave Amazon road [BR-163]. By Andrew Downie, Christian Science Monitor, 15 February 2005. "'Preliminary deforestation figures for central Para show that deforestation in the area is up 511 percent over the year before,' says Roberto Smeraldi, Brazil director of Friends of the Earth."

Important study: Condition and fate of logged forests in the Brazilian Amazon by Gregory P. Asnet et al. PNAS 103(34): 12947-12950 (2006)(pdf). "Reduced impact" and "certified" logging of ancient forests is much more destructive than certified logging apologists and conspirators such as the FSC, WWF and Greenpeace will concede. 32% of selectively logged forests in Amazonian Brazil are cleared within four years! The probability of clearing previously logged forest was 2 to 4 times greater than that of intact forest at distances of 5-25 km from main roads.

Rainforest Portal Action Alert: Stop Ocean City, New Jersey from Using Ancient Rainforest Timbers for Boardwalk Decking, August 13, 2007. An alliance of greenwash groups including the FSC, WWF, Greenpeace, and the Rainforest Alliance-SmartWood are promoting the use of wood logged from ancient, undisturbed rainforests for the Ocean City Boardwalk. They depend upon useful idiots and the ignorant mainstream media to report falsely that such logging is "sustainable", even though the forest ecosystems cannot be sustained when ancient trees are selectively logged. Birds dependent on old growth forests and intact canopies, vines and mid-level growth, do not survive in logged Neotropical rainforests, whether the logging is "certified" or not. The greenwash groups lack expertise in ornithology but are dependent on grants from dirty corporations and corrupt governments agencies.

Copyright © 1992-2012 John Wall