Extraction by local people of resources from rain forests has been touted as a means to save forests by providing economic alternatives to logging and conversion for agriculture. However, we know little about the quantity of resources which can be extracted without affecting forest ecosystems and structure. Much damage has been done to forests by excessive tapping for latex (rubber) or resins and gums (gutta percha and similar products), and by inexpert extractors drawn by the desire for profit. In Southeast Asia, rattan (a more than US$3 billion international business) is being depleted by the great demand. In South America many forests lack Brazil nut seedlings and saplings – perhaps due to the removal of seeds in such great quantities that not enough remain for reproduction of this species.
In many places, animal populations have been severely depleted by unsustainable hunting, in some cases so much so that the forests in which they lived are termed “empty forests.” Since large mammals, especially primates, reproduce relatively slowly, the situation is especially grave for them. Unsustainable hunting occurs because human populations in the tropics are burgeoning and, to a lesser extent, because of increasing urbanization, increasing affluence among some groups and desperate poverty among others. More than one million tons of bushmeat are harvested annually from Central Africa, clearly an unsustainable amount (McGraw, 2001; Whitfield, 2003). In many parts of West Africa, the forests have been denuded of wildlife. In Vietnam, twelve species of forest mammals are no longer seen because of excessive demand for meat. The demand for bushmeat is greatest in the vicinity of urban areas, where commercial hunters ply the forests for almost any animal of reasonable size, but villages and towns in or near forests also depend upon hunting for food. Such people must go farther and farther into the forest to find game, since the forests near inhabited areas have already been depleted. Miners, loggers and other who work in forests are expected to provide their own food, and so naturally they hunt. But the instrument for excessive hunting is the demand for timber. Intensive hunting is enabled by logging practices as logging roads open up the forest interior. “The roads into these forests would not be there if it weren’t for the timber industries that build them. And timber trucks are one of the primary means for transporting bushmeat. The global bushmeat crisis is a direct effect of western and Asian commercial interests” (Ebersole, 2001).