Living with chainsaws and jaguars

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Tigercat 6x6 grapple skidder

– The forestry operation in a protected forest that is welcomed by local communities

By Neil Marks

From the air, the Iwokrama forest appears as if it is a giant broccoli field.You’d hardly know they are cutting down trees and processing the logs into sawn wood which would then be shipped to buyers in New Zealand, Italy, the UK and elsewhere.

Lucy Marslow
Lucy Marslow

You’d be surprised to know too that the operations seem to be little bother to the animals around, or at least, if they are annoyed by the noise from the chainsaw and other machinery, they’d retreat for a while and then return.

Imagine Matt Hallet’s delight then when one of the camera traps he set up in the forest was able to pick up a photo of a couple of the rare bush dogs, which were not previously documented as being part of the incredible biodiversity of the Iwokrama forest.

“It really shows that the logging activity itself, the way they do it, allows even rare animals that are very shy, such as bush dogs, to co-exist with the activities that are going on,” says Hallet, a Florida student who is studying how human activity, such as logging, affects the movement of animals.

Lucy Marslow, a 30-year-old  woman of the Arawak and Macushi nations, knows the Iwokrama forest all too well.

She serves as the toshao, or village leader of Fairview, the only community within the boundaries of the Iwokrama forest, which measures 371, 00 hectares.

To get there, you’d spend about two hours on bitumen road from the capital Georgetown and then about another six hours on a horrendous dirt road before you come to a stop at Kurupukari, where a pontoon would take you across the river to the edge of the forest.

“You can still go out a mile from the community, or closer, and see jaguar tracks; you can see the deer or tapir too,” she says.

“This logging don’t really disturb them because of the high standard of logging.

“They don’t take everything that is there, they do selective logging; and there are are buffer zones, so they log away from rivers, valleys, swamps, and so where the animals use.”

The logging operations form part of the goal of Iwokrama.

The forest was pledged to the Commonwealth – a group of nations formerly ruled by England – back in 1989 by then President Desmond Hoyte to be used “in a manner that will lead to lasting ecological, economic and social benefits to the people of Guyana and the world in general.”

Arising out of President Hoyte’s pledge, legislation was passed in 1996 to govern the use of the forest, and the Iwokrama International Centre was set up to oversee the experiment.

Last November, the Centre announced that it had teamed up with local company Farfan and Mendes to undertake a second project to test the sustainable use of the forest, essentially that you can use the forest without destroying, or losing it.

Lucy, a forest ranger, also trained in forest inventory and log scaling, has no qualms about supporting the project. She knows how Iwokrama works.

“They have respect for the wildlife; if they go to do logging and they find a Harpy Eagle nest on a tree, they leave that tree,” she tells the Guyana Chronicle.
Lucy is also pleased about the fact that 14 of 304 persons who make up her village are employed by the Iwokrama.

Adon Jacobus
Adon Jacobus

The forest is zoned into a Sustainable Utilization Area (SUA) and a Wilderness Preserve (WP).

Under the Iwokrama Act, 108,433 hectares of the forest was deemed suitable by the Centre’s Forestry Management for sustainable forestry in accordance with Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and Forest Stewardship Council guidelines.

It is in this area that Farfan and Mendes, the largest local supplier of equipment to the local timber industry, carries out its operations. The decision of what trees to fell and where they are located is monitored and supervised by Iwokrama.

Apart from Fairview, Iwokrama brings together 15 other communities of approximately 7,000 people who co-manage the forest.

BEST PRACTICES

“The people of the community have an input of how we log and where we log,” says Andrew Mendes, the Managing Director of the Farfan and Mendes, the company which introduced the chainsaw to the local timber industry in 1967.

The company employs best practices in forestry, including a strict no-log export policy and the employment of Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) and Directional Felling (DF) techniques.

“The Iwokrama effect”

For Mr Mendes, what his company is doing at Iwokrama not only contributes to the debate about climate change and the need to use the forest in a sustainable manner, but it also makes economic sense.

The description of the local industry 90 years ago and today remains the same – the industry produces large sawn baulks for marine construction and poorly dressed green lumber for local consumption.

For Farfan and Mendes, that makes no sense and it intends to freely share its expertise with others in Guyana, so as to create “the Iwokrama effect.”

Because of poor processing and grade recovery, it takes 6 – 8 m3 of log to produce 1 m3 of First and Seconds (FAS) grade sawn lumber. Mr Mendes says this is a direct result of cutting to order verses cutting for grade. With Farfan and Mendes, it takes 2 – 2.5 m3 to achieve the same result.

That’s why, he says, Farfan and Mendes has taken “the time and money to set this operation up right in the first place so we can do it right.”

For example, he says using the Tigercat 6×6 grapple skidder is much more efficient than cable skidders. Due to the use of the grapple, larger loads with less ground pressure leads to higher productivity with less impact. The local daily skidding average per machine is 20 – 30 m3, while Farfan and Mendes averages 150 m3 with one machine.

Nigel John
Nigel John

With the Iwokrama project, he says the company does not cut orders from the log but saw for grade, “rough mill” to produce the final dimension, and sells from an inventory of sawn lumber so it can have shorter and on time delivery.

Under Iwokrama’s highly selective harvesting programme, only 3 to 4 trees are cut in each hectare, that is approximately one in 20 at most, and each harvested hectare will not be revisited for 60 years.

The harvesting operation creates no aerial or on-the-ground visual impact and there are no noticeable gaps in the forest canopy in harvested areas.

Mendes says his company sees saving the environment and profit as mutually complimentary goals.

“Any unplanned or non –productive movement of our machinery costs us money, therefore efficiency in operations actually reduces the environmental footprint while at the same time increases profitability.”

“The project within the Iwokrama is that they are trying to use this project to show how they can manage, work while protecting do sustainable,” says Nigel John, the village leader of Apoteri, a village of 288 persons located 75 kilometres from the Iwokrama base.

“This will show the world – provide a model – that shows you can have resources in your community but at the same time you can bring income by using it wisely.”
Adon Jacobus, the village leader of Aranaputa, has five of his village’s boys who just left high school working at the project site.

The project provides employment for the boys, who would have either been out of a job after completing high school, or would have ended up in the gold mines.

Aranaputa, like Apoteri and Fairview, form part of the villages of the North Rupununi, which have sanctioned the project.

“Iwokrama is a model throughout Guyana in terms of sustainable forestry,” Jacobus notes.
“We want to show the rest of the world how the forest can be protected but at the same time benefit us.”
For the village leader of Rewa, the project presents an opportunity for residents to be trained in sustainable use of the forests. The village has applied for an extension of its titled land. “We want an extension, so we can benefit from more of what is on our lands, but how will me manage it?

“The training form Iwokrama is invaluable.”

Farfan and Mendes insists its work and methods of operation are in rigid confirmation with the ten principles for responsible forest management, including the need to maintain high conservation value of forest. The village leaders of Fairview and the other communities around Iwokrama have no quarrel that the company is doing otherwise.

“Timber is a substantial resource in the Iwokrama Forest and therefore the model we are developing is very well aligned with our goals and mission,” says Dane Gobin, chief executive officer of Iwokrama.