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Have your rain forest and eat it, too.

Have your rain forest and eat it, too

Is a live rain forest worth more money than a dead one? A new study suggests that efforts to harvest the products of tropical forests may generate substantial monetary profits while at the same time preserving the ecological wealth stored there.

Most financial analyses of a rain forest's worth have focused only on the value of felled timber. As a result, these calculations indicate the forest is worth more as farmland or pastureland than as a source of timber. Such work has provided support for forest clearing--a process that eliminates uncounted species of plants and animals while exacerbating the greenhouse effect.

Research by a group of U.S. scientists now shows that an intact rain forest can provide more revenue than a cleared one. The investigators, who describe their findings in the June 29 NATURE, estimated the value of a hectare of Amazonian forest near Iquitos, Peru, by examining the annual production of fruits, oils, rubber and medicines there. "These data indicate that tropical forests are worth considerably more than has been previously assumed and that the actual market benefits of timber are very small relative to those of nonwood resources," say Charles Peters of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, Alwyn Gentry of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis and Robert Mendelsohn of Yale University.

The analysis shows that 1 hectare of forest produces $400 in fruit and $22 in rubber annually. Since such products grow every year, the forest's real value far exceeds one year's profit from these crops. To estimate the total worth of resources, the researchers used a model to calculate a figure called the net present value. For fruit and rubber, the net present value is $6,330 per hectare. This amount would be higher if it included revenues from medicinal plants and other products.

In contrast to harvesting fruits, cutting a hectare of rain forest timber earns a net revenue of $1,000, but this is a one-time payout. Periodic cutting of selected trees yields a net present value of only $490. A tree plantation located on a hectare of cleared forest has a net present value of $3,184. For pastureland, the figure is less than $2,960.
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Title Annotation:Science & Society
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 15, 1989
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