New Study Confirms FSC-Certified Forests Help Wildlife Thrive in the Congo Basin

April 15th, 2024
9:53 AM

Good news for critically endangered species in the Congo Basin: A study shows higher numbers of large mammals in FSC-certified forests in Gabon and the Republic of Congo compared to non-certified ones.


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April 10th 2024

There’s good news for critically endangered species—including gorillas and elephants—in the Congo Basin. A new study reveals a higher number of large mammals in forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) in Gabon and the Republic of Congo, compared to non-FSC-certified forests. This news underscores the importance of FSC-certified forest concessions (areas where logging is sustainably managed) in protecting wildlife. The research, led by Utrecht University with support from WWF and the Wildlife Conservation Society, was published in Nature on April 10, 2024.


Key Findings: FSC-certified Forests a Haven for Larger Mammals

By meticulously documenting individual animal counts and strategically positioning camera traps, the research affirmed that certified concessions notably harbor a bigger population of large and threatened mammals—2.7 times more for mammals over 220 pounds, such as gorillas and forest elephants. The conservation of these large mammals positively influences seed dispersal, nutrient cycling, and forest carbon storage in the area.

For mammals 66-220 pounds, such as leopards and chimpanzees, numbers rose to 2.5 times more animals in FSC-certified forest concessions. And for smaller mammals, numbers were similar between FSC- and non-FSC concessions.

The new study is the first to compare so many different forest areas at the same time, using 474 camera traps across 14 logging concessions (half of which were FSC-certified). The results align with previous research in the Peruvian Amazon, which found that it is possible to have production forestry coincide with biodiversity conservation if done in the right way and in the right places.

“It was a large and ambitious project that took five years and involved hundreds of local employees,” said Utrecht University’s Joeri Zwerts, who led the Congo Basin study. “It was hard work, but the knowledge we gained will make an important contribution to the protection of animals in tropical forests.”


Clear Link Between Hunting and Biodiversity Loss

The research also details the impact of hunting on biodiversity loss, noting there were fewer signs of hunting and more observations of wildlife in FSC-certified concessions. Proactive measures by FSC-certified forestry companies, such as blocking old logging roads, establishing checkpoints, and supporting alternative protein sources for local communities, have significantly curbed illegal hunting.

Beyond wildlife conservation, the study highlights the broader positive impact of FSC certification. The conservation of large mammals positively influences seed dispersal, nutrient cycling, and forest carbon storage. Previous research (published in Nature Geoscience) has shown that tropical forests would potentially store 7% less carbon without the presence of elephants.

“These results are inspiring and an indication that FSC continues to be an effective tool in tropical forests and that its standards translate into tangible impacts,” said Fran Price, leader, WWF Forest Practice. “Solutions that benefit both people and nature do exist, and responsible forest management certification is one of those vital solutions.”


Responsible Forest Management: An Important Pillar for Biodiversity Conservation

“FSC-certified forest concessions in the Congo Basin are often in large, remote areas, which are harvested under reduced-impact logging principles in a decades-long rotational pattern, meaning that large mammals are able to roam and avoid production areas,” said Jaap Van Der Waarde, WWF-Cameroon, who is a coauthor of the paper.

“This study’s findings provide convincing data that sustainable forestry practices can contribute to the conservation of wildlife whilst also supporting sustainable community and economic development,” said Tim Cronin, Forests Forward global lead, WWF. “To confirm that wildlife conservation need not come at the expense of economic development brings real hope for the future of the Congo Basin.”

As logging concessions account for more than half of the remaining forest areas in the two countries studied (61% in the Republic of Congo and 67% in Gabon), these positive results from FSC-certified concessions are of great significance for biodiversity in the region.


Making the Right Choices

WWF urges companies to pursue responsible forest management certified under FSC and invest more in research that can help inform the continual improvement of such mechanisms.

Through Forests Forward, WWF’s signature program for corporate action in support of nature, climate, and people, WWF works with several companies in the Congo Basin to improve forest management.

Consumer choice also plays an important role. As the paper’s lead author, Joeri Zwerts, said: “We, as consumers, affect ecosystems on the other side of the world, and we need to find ways to reduce our negative impact. Our research contributes to the knowledge that can help people to make the right choices.”