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Expansion of Industrial Logging
in Central Africa
Nadine T. Laporte,* Jared A. Stabach, Robert Grosch, Tiffany S. Lin, Scott J. Goetz
entral Africa’s dense humid forests have
long been regarded as among the most
pristine on Earth, but in recent decades
industrial logging has become the most extensive
form of land use in the region. Currently more
than 600,000 km
(30%) of forest are under
logging concessions, whereas just 12% is pro-
tected. Logging-related disturbance in the region
alters ecosystem composition and biodiversity (1),
opens remote areas to poaching (2), and modifies
numerous functional attributes of the ecosystem
(3). Laws and regulations are in place to improve
forest management at national and regional scales,
but limited resources are available to enforce
regulations or to provide technical support (4).
Here, we report on the use of over 300 Landsat
satellite i mages, coveri ng 4 million km
, to track
the progression of logging roads for three decades
preceding 2003 (5). W e document accelerating
rates of logging road construction in much of the
region and show that monitoring with satellite
remote sensing provides a practical approach to
map changes associated with logging activities.
We mapped 51,916 km of logging roads with-
in the forested region (Fig. 1). This is a conserv-
ative estimate, because not all areas had recent
cloud-free satellite images (5) and logging roads
are converted to public roads where population
density is high. Logging roads accounted for 38%
of the length of all roads, ranging from 13% in the
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to >60% in
Gabon and the Republic of Congo (ROC). The
combined road density (public and logging) was
0.07 km km
and, considering logging roads only,
0.03 km km
. The highest logging road densities
(0.09 km km
) were in Cameroon and Equatorial
Guinea (EG), where most of the forest was cut at
least once. Logging in these two countries and in
Gabon has extended inland in recent decades after
the earlier harvesting of coastal forest.
The most rapidly changing area was in north-
ern ROC, where the rate of road construction in-
creased from 156 km year
for the period 1976–1990
to over 660 km year
after 2000. Evidence for a
new frontier of logging expansion was documented
within the DRC, which currently contains 63% of
the total remaining forest of the region and has the
lowest measured logging road density (0.01 km
) of all Central African nations. Rates of
logging road construction increased within DRC,
particularly in a 50,000-km
region of north-central
DRC, where the rate of road development pro-
gressed from 336 km year
(1986–1990) to 456 km
(2000–20 0 2 ) . We expect industrial logging
concessions to expand, with commensurate in-
creases in the rates of logging and road building
associated with foreign investment (6).
W ith the exception of the Okoumé forests of
Gabon (7), most of the industrial logging is selec-
tive and focused on high-value tree species for
export (for example, African mahoganies). We esti-
mated 5% (89,715 km
disturbed and 29% (567,782 km
have increased wildlife hunting pressure because of
easier access and local market opportunities offered
by new loggin g towns (5). The greatest amount of
forest disturbance (15%) occurred in Cameroon
and EG, compared with just 1% within the DRC. In
addition, we used finer resolution (4-m) satellite
imagery to document disturbance created by log-
ging skid trails and tree felling. These locally dis-
turbed areas had canopy gaps that were five to six
times larger than those in adjacent unlogged forests.
Gaps created by tree fall ranged from 200 to 600 m
in size and, together with skid trails, accounted for
9% of the ar ea in which logging occurred .
To date, few reliable data sets have been avail-
able to monitor the changes taking place in remote
areas of the Congo Basin, but regular monitoring
with satellite remote sensing provides a consistent
approach to monitor both legal and illegal logging
activities. In the context of the rapid frontier ex-
pansion, the conservation of forested landscapes
and sustainable timber production is crucial for
Central African nations and their inhabitants.
References and Notes
1. J. R. Malcolm, J. C. Ray, Conserv. Biol. 14, 1623 (2000).
2. J. G. Robinson, K. H. Redford, E. L. Bennett, Science 284,
3. J. S. Hall, D. J. Harris, V. Medjibe, P. M. S. Ashton,
For. Ecol. Manage. 183, 249 (2003).
4. The Central Africa Forests Commission, www.comifac.org.
5. Materials and methods are available on Science Online.
6. P. Buys, U. Deichmann, D. Wheeler, “Road network
upgrading and overland trade expansion in sub-Saharan
Africa” (Policy Research Working Paper WPS 4097, World
Bank, Washington, DC, 2006); available online at
7. L. J. T. White, J. Trop. Ecol. 10, 309 (1994).
8. Supported by NASA grants NNG05GD14G and
NNS06AA06A. We thank E. Davidson, R. A. Houghton,
and D. Nepstad for comments on the manuscript.
Supporting Online Material
Materials and Methods
References and Notes
8 February 2007; accepted 26 April 2007
Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, MA 02540, USA.
*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:
Fig. 1. Logging concessions and road distribution in Central Africa: Cameroon (labeled on the map as 1),
Central African Republic (2), Equatorial Guinea (3), Gabon (4), Republic of Congo (5), and Democratic Republic
of Congo (6). A more detailed graphic of logging roads for a portion of the region is provided in fig. S1.
www.sciencemag.org SCIENCE VOL 316 8 JUNE 2007
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