Edited, paraphrased, and details elided for confidentiality.
"You'll meet people who say we shouldn't log tropical forests at all. Greenpeace, lots of NGOs. Just say no.
"Logging is one of the biggest employers in the Congo. Three hundred thousand people. It's mostly legitimate, registered companies that are paying a legal wage. They're businesses, they're not angels, they're not perfect. But they have addresses. You can find them. Most of them have been in the business for decades -- there are family firms going back a century or more. They're long-term thinkers.
"A mature tropical hardwood tree will gross you around fifty thousand dollars, F.O.B. Antwerp. That's a lot of money. Somebody is going to cut those trees.
"You can do this sustainably. In fact it's easier to do sustainable logging in a tropical forest, because it's more diverse. You have ten or twenty different species on a hectare instead of two or three. So you say, this time we're going after this species, only. And you harvest one or two or three trees per hectare. It's the farthest thing from clearcutting you can imagine. Come back in a year, take another species. One, two, three trees. The forest recovers.
"What'll kill a forest is agriculture, livestock. Can't run cattle under trees. People here do slash-and-burn stuff. That's fine in scrub forest. Rain forest, swamp forest, you're cutting down trees that will take fifty years to grow back.
"Logging's not as big here as in Cameroon or Gabon. It's a hard country to work in. Lots of corruption. Even a big foreign company isn't protected. Everyone wants a cut, from the provincial governor on down. And the transportation? Terrible. Terrible. Most logging is along the river system. Most tropical hardwoods, they're so dense that they don't float. So you need barges. Everything goes down the river to Kinshasa, then it has to transship to Matadi. Most of that goes by truck. It's expensive.
"The profits get low enough that a lot of it gets diverted to local use. The construction industry here uses a lot of hardwoods. Stuff that would go for hundreds, thousands of dollars in Europe gets used for planks and beams in houses here.
"What you really have to worry about are wildcatters, illegal loggers. They'll come in, offer a local chief a few cases of beer and a motorbike. Even they don't clearcut, but they're sloppy and careless. Lot of damage, lot of waste. Sometimes they'll process the logs onsite. Wastes a hell of a lot of wood. You see guys walking down the road with planks on their head. Planks on motorbikes, loaded on top of vans. Happens every time a road gets fixed. They can't afford barges so they follow the roads.
"The legitimate loggers -- it's expensive. Lot of investment. To manage a forest properly? Marking, vehicles, technical stuff. It's not cheap.
"The legitimate firms, they're almost all European. Lot of Germans. Some Portuguese. A few Malaysian guys. Hardly any Chinese, yet. The Chinese do a lot of construction, a lot of trade, they're trying to acquire mines. They haven't figured out logging yet. Give it a few years.
"Central Congo, south of Kisangani [under the big bend in the Congo River] -- it's basically one big swamp. Very hard to log. You send a crew in during dry season, and they log along the dryer bits. Come wet season, everything floods, you can get a barge in, bring the stuff out.
"People, crews, used to get lost in there. Now there's GPS. You can't get lost, and you can't make mistakes about your concession either. Everybody knows where the lines are. Some places you have mobile coverage, some you don't. But you can't get lost."
-- The conversation was, unfortunately, cut short. So I never got to ask most of the obvious questions. Still, I thought it was interesting enough to be worth jotting down.