Does biodiversity benefit when the logging stops? An analysis of conservation risks and opportunities in active versus inactive logging concessions in Borneo
The island of Borneo is a biodiversity hotspot of global importance that continues to suffer from one of the highest deforestation rates in the tropics. Selective logging concessions overlay a third of the remaining natural forests in the Indonesian part of Borneo, but many of these concessions have become inactive in recent years. Whereas the cessation of logging could be beneficial to biodiversity, the absence of a logging company's presence in the forest could also leave the concession open to deforestation by other actors. Using remote sensing analyses, we evaluate 1) whether inactive concessions are more likely to suffer from deforestation than active ones, 2) the possible reasons why concessions become inactive, and 3) which inactive concessions hold the most potential for biodiversity conservation, if protected from deforestation. Our analysis shows that, counterintuitively, inactive concessions overall suffer a higher rate of forest loss than active ones. We find that small concession size and high elevation are correlated with inactive status. We identified several inactive concessions that, if maintained as natural forest, could significantly contribute to biodiversity conservation, as exemplified by their importance to two umbrella species: Bornean orangutan (Critically Endangered) and Sunda clouded leopard (Vulnerable). Because timber operations in other tropical regions are likely to experience similar cycles of activity and inactivity, the fate of inactive timber concessions and the opportunities they create for conservation deserve much greater attention from conservation scientists and practitioners.