Deforestation in New Guinea

ecoworld.com

Issue #2

June 1995

RAINFOREST UPDATE

a message from the

WORLD RAINFOREST MOVEMENT

Editors Note: While logging cannot and should not be stopped, and anyone thinking otherwise probably is a hypocritical herbivoire, some methods of logging certainly are better than others. It’s hard to control logging by powerful foreign interests if you are a country like Papua New Guinea, a rugged land with an entirely decentralized subsistence culture and over a thousand languages on its territory. If a timber harvest rotation is too short, the soil could be destroyed, causing new trees to grow slower and slower. This article could be a textbook example of how long term economic interests are not being attended to. Engaging in more ecologically nurturing logging procedures can be justifiable for no other reason than to maximize private incentives. Only the timeframe is in dispute.


BENTIAN BESAR DISTRICT
PAPUA NEW GUINEA, 1995

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226,000 HECTARES (1,000 SQUARE MILES) MORE OF GULF PROVINCE RAINFOREST TO BE HARVESTED

Papua New Guinea’s forests, one of four tropical wildernesses remaining on the planet, are being liquidated in about a generation, for the primary benefit of Malaysian multi-nationals and to rescue the PNG government from fiscal mismanagement. Meanwhile, future generations, such as the Turama peoples, are doomed to a life of biological and economic impoverishment.


The Saturday Independent (new name for Times of PNG) reports that 266,000 hectares in the Turama, Kikori and Baimuru forest areas of Gulf Province have been approved as timber permit extensions for Turama Forest Industries. This company is of unspecified ownership in the article, but reported elsewhere as being owned by “Long Term Trading P/L” which is registered in Singapore. Long Term Trading is generally considered part of the Malaysian Monarch group of PNG timber companies which control approximately ten other timber concessions in PNG, second only to Rimbunan Hijau at about twenty three logging areas. Monarch’s timber abuses were well documented in the Barnett Inquiry into Timber Industry misconduct.

The company already has a 259,600 hectares of timber operations in the immediate area of Turama and is expected to harvest 180,000 cubic metres of timber annually. The article reports in return for such a large timber permit, the company will build a plywood mill, “hopefully within the next two years.” If past behavior is an indication, perhaps never.

The article is aglow with talk of long term sustainable development of the area based on a continuous 35 year cutting cycle. The notion that large scale industrial forestry (effectively clearcutting the area with resultant soil compaction from heavy machinery, soil erosion and loss of soil fertility) can be sustained past a couple harvests is scientifically indefensible in that tropical forest soils are well known by conservation biologists to be ill-suited to such use. No mention is made of the likely effects upon the areas biodiversity; nor the Gulf of Papua’s extensive marine resources, as such an incredibly large industrial forestry operation greatly increases soil erosion.

Sustaining forest timber production is a greatly different matter than sustaining forest ecological processes. It is doubtful that a 500,000 hectare chunk taken by one company out of the Gulf Province will sustain either.

One can only wonder whether the PNG government even considered aiding the landholders of the area to pursue small scale, community forestry operations. It is unlikely, in that few government royalties are generated by such appropriate development. And the government is K5 billion in debt through mismanagement; despite the recent arrival of Kutubu, Porgera Mine, Hides Gas and other projects on line.

This is the first project approved under the new Forest Act and the National Forestry Guidelines. While this legislation has been hailed as important steps toward progressive forest management; their implementation through the Turama Forest project indicates that even with new laws, we can expect continued emphasis upon very large foreign owned industrial clearcuts.

Shockingly, the projects approval was granted early, by the acting Forest Minister Mr Philemon. The actual Forest Minister, Mr. Andrew Posai, only recently had his ministry removed from him as he is being investigated for corruption; some stemming from his role and dealings with the timber industry as Forest Minister. In such an environment of overt and continuing corruption, it is questionable when an acting official rushes project implementation.

The World Rainforest Movement is calling for an immediate investigation into the rushed approval of such a large project, to insure that the procedures were followed for project implementation.

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