Illegal logging continues to plague Madagascar’s rainforest parks


Despite government assurances that it would crack down on the rosewood trade, illegal logging continues in Madagascar’s rainforest parks, according to new information provided by sources on the ground and reported in Wildmadagascar.com.

The sources report logging in three parks: Mananara, Makira, and Masoala. All three are known for their high levels of biodiversity, including endangered lemurs.

Rosewood logs are being transported to Tamatave (Toamasina), Madagascar’s main port, despite a national moratorium on logging and export of precious hardwoods. Most rosewood ends up going to China, where it is in high demand for furniture.

The Malagasy sources report that local law enforcement—the new Brigade Mixte Forestière established to reduce logging—is impeded the Forest Ministry, which has failed to grant them the right to use search warrants on private property.

The sources also claim that rosewood confiscated by authorities is being stolen from official stockpiles.

Illegal logging exploded last year in the aftermath of a military coup that displaced the democratically-elected, but increasingly autocratic president, Marc Ravalomanana.

National parks, especially in the North-East of the country, were ransacked by loggers employed by timber barons who traditionally capitalize on political instability or natural disasters to replenish timber stocks and traffic ill-gotten wood.

Madagascar is now ruled by a “transition authority” that has so far shown little inclination to hold free and fair elections and has been be slow to address the logging crisis despite pressure from the international community.

Source: Wildmadagascar.com

Date:06/09/2010

Model shows ‘waves of forest degradation’


An international team of researchers has developed a model that suggests degradation of tropical forests occurs in a series of “waves”, reports the BBC News website’s Mark Kinver.

High-value trees were felled in the first “wave”, followed by a wave that removed mid-value timber before the remaining wood was felled for charcoal.

The team hopes the model will help manage forests as vital carbon sinks and limit the loss of biodiversity.

The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers said an economic theory was used to provide a general model to predict patterns of tree loss.

This translates to a prediction that waves of forest degradation will emanate from major demand centres and expand into nearby forested areas, targeting resources in sequence, starting with those of highest value,” they wrote in their PNAS paper.

“Such a sequence of demand, linked to resource utilisation, has been demonstrated for unmanaged fisheries… but has not been shown for the exploitation of differently valued tropical forest products.”

The team used data collected in the area surrounding Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, to see how far the degradation “waves” had travelled between 1991 and 2005.

“The first wave that emanates is high-value timber, and that is mostly used for export,” explained co-author Antje Ahrends, an ecologist at the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh.

“There has been a massive demand for this in China, and this is where most of the timber ends up.”

Dr Ahrends said the first wave moved out from Dar es Salaam rapidly, averaging about nine kilometres each year, because the “timber companies had lorries and loads of people working for them”.

“For the firms, it is only worthwhile to stay in a forest when timber can be accessed relatively easily,” she told BBC News.

“So once it becomes not so easy to get hold of the rest, the companies generally move on.”

The first wave had already moved outside of the team’s study area, and Dr Ahrends estimated that it was already more than 200km from Dar es Salaam.

The second wave saw trees being felled for medium-valued timber, which was generally used in the city for construction and furniture.

“This is expanding very rapidly, in line with urban migration,” she explained. “The town has an average growth rate of about 7% each year, so there is – again – a rapidly growing demand for this material.”

The timber is harvested by local companies, again with lorries, allowing large volumes to be collected in a relatively short space of time. This resulted in this degradation wave to also cover about nine kilometres each year.

The third and final wave involved local people collecting wood to make charcoal for cooking.

“It’s the most destructive of all of the waves because charcoal burners would collect everything,” observed Dr Ahrends, who was based at the York Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Dynamics when she carried out this research.

“It is only worthwhile moving on once there are no sizeable trees left in the forest.”

As a result, the charcoal wave had moved relatively slowly – from 20km outside Dar es Salaam in 1991 to 50km away in 2005.

“It is the most difficult of the waves to tackle because it is very poor people who burn charcoal and their livelihoods depend upon it.”

“Targeting that wave would mean trying to provide alternative resources for cooking, and alternative incomes for people who burn charcoal.

Species loss

The team also developed their model to gauge what impact forest degradation had on “public good” services, such as carbon storage and biodiversity.

They did this by recording what species of trees were in a particular area of the study, and what size the individual trees were.

“This later enabled us to calculate species richness and also the amount of carbon those trees were storing,” Dr Ahrends said.

“We found that there was a very strong linear impacts; for example, tree species richness dropped to only 14 species-per-sample-unit close to Dar es Salaam, whereas it is more than 40 species in areas 200km away.”

Dr Ahrends suggested that the model could be used to understand the impact of forest degradation in other sub-Sarahan nations in Africa.

“This is because conditions are very similar: high levels of corruption, weak law enforcement and very rapid rates of urbanisation.”

She added that the team’s model could help policymakers who were looking at ways to limit deforestation rates.

“What is really important is to understand the pattern of degradation and the way it spreads,” she suggested.

“While we have a good understanding of deforestation – which is the complete clearance of a forest – it is much more difficult to measure degradation.

“So if you have this simple model, then you have a basic understanding of how degradation might spread… which may help you develop some prediction of where it might spread from and how far it might spread.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 03/08/2010

‘Green Nobel’ for rainforest champion


A campaigner who was jailed during his battle to save the rainforest in Gabon has received a top international award., reports the BBC’s Victoria Gill.

Marc Ona Essangui was honoured for his fight to stop what he describes as a destructive mining project in the Ivindo National Park.

He is one of seven people from six continental regions to be awarded an equal share of the $900,000 (£600,000) 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize.

It has been described as “the Nobel Prize for grassroots environmentalism”.

Mr Ona has campaigned for three years against the Belinga mine project – a deal between the government in Gabon and the Chinese mining and engineering company, CMEC, to extract iron ore.

The project includes the construction of a large hydroelectric dam, which is already underway, to provide power for the mine. The dam is being built on the Ivindo River, near the Kongou Falls, Gabon’s highest waterfall.

Mr Ona, who described the falls as “the most beautiful in central Africa”, said that Gabon’s government had failed to consult the local population and had not assessed the impact of the development on the environment before it gave permission for construction to begin.

He told BBC News that he hoped his receipt of the Goldman Prize would “draw international attention to just how precious this area is”.

Mr Ona, who uses a wheelchair, dedicated his early career to improving education and communication infrastructure in Gabon, including working with the United Nations Development Programme. He later turned his attention to environmental issues.

He eventually decided to focus his efforts full time on the work of his own environmental NGO, Brainforest, which aims to protect the rainforest for the benefit local of communities.

“The government established 13 national parks here, and I became interested in all the activities within them,” he said.

“In 2006, my colleagues and I noticed that roads were being built within Ivindo.”

When Mr Ona investigated, he discovered that there had been no environmental impact studies carried out before the road building started.

On its website, the Gabonese government describes the national parks as having been “classified for the conservation of Gabon’s rich biodiversity”.

The key goals of the national park scheme, it says, are preservation of “the wealth of the ecosystem… for current and future generations” and stimulating “the development of ecotourism as an economic alternative to the exploitation of natural resources”.

Mr Ona said: “All of this construction was carried out illegally and against the code of the national parks.”

He also unearthed and leaked a copy of the Belinga mine project agreement between the government and CMEC, revealing that CMEC had been offered a 25-year tax break as part of the deal.

“When we really started to look into the deal, we noticed that it was China, not Gabon, that was the major beneficiary,” he said.

He and his colleagues embarked on their campaign, working with other environmental NGOs, holding news conferences and meeting with local communities.

“The government even motivated some protests against the NGOs involved,” he recalled.

“They alleged that we were working [on behalf of] Western powers, and we received a lot of pressure to stop the campaign.”

This culminated in Mr Ona being arrested and charged with “incitement to rebellion”.

He was jailed by the Gabonese judicial police on 31 December 2008; but following an internationally co-ordinated campaign for his release, he was freed on 12 January 2009.

Since June 2006, however, he has been banned from travelling outside the country.

His passport was returned to him only 24 hours before he was due to travel to San Francisco for the Goldman award ceremony.

There has been no construction in Ivindo for almost a year, but Mr Ona says this has more to do with the economic crisis and the price of iron ore than with the Gabonese government backing down.

He has no plans to give up his quest.

“Some of the money from this award will go to the functioning of Brainforest, and the rest will be allocated to setting up small- and medium-sized businesses for local communities,” he said.

“I want to set up a clinic near Ivindo where the local people can be treated using traditional medicine. Some of the money will serve to establish this health centre for all of those communities.”

The organisers of the Goldman Prize describe the six winners as “a group of fearless grassroots leaders, taking on government and corporate interests and working to improve the environment for people in their communities”.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 19/04/2009

UK firm barcodes trees to save the world’s forests


Barcoding every tree in an African rainforest sounds as plausible as counting grains of sand on a beach, but this is exactly what one British company has set out to do, reports Kate Walsh for the Times.

Helveta, a technology firm based in Oxford, is developing a system for tracking timber that will help prevent illegal logging and could become a template for forest management all over the world.

Using a system of barcoding similar to that used by supermarkets for stock control, Helveta aims to tag all 90 million trees in 4.3 million hectares of rainforest in Liberia.

The marking process will allow customers in Britain and elsewhere to trace every timber plank or piece of garden furniture back to its stump.

The Liberian government has awarded the company a £1m, four-year contract to implement the system.

A 14-year civil war destroyed much of Liberia’s forestry sector, along with the country’s infrastructure.

At the height of the fighting, the country’s fragile forests were being stripped to pay for weapons. Niangon and Lovoa, high-quality timber used in furniture making and worth up to £180 a cubic metre, was sold to buy guns and ammunition.

Helveta claims its system of mapping is the only one in the world that can guarantee the “sustainability and legality” of timber.

Climate change is making the protection and management of forests a priority – the provenance of timber is therefore becoming “critically important” to retailers such as B&Q and Habitat, the company said.

“Our appetite in the West for ethically-sourced goods – whether it’s coffee or chocolate – is growing and retailers are responding to that,” said Derek Charter, Helveta’s project manager in Liberia.

“There is also a raft of different legislation being put in place – at EU and UK-government level – that will enforce the legality of timber on the retailer. In other words, if retailers cannot prove where the timber has come from, they could be penalised.”

The process of barcoding each tree – about one million of the 90 million tagged trees will actually be harvested – is fairly simple.

A 4cm plastic tag, which has a unique identity number, is hammered into the tree trunk. Only trees over 40cm in diameter can be tagged; anything smaller than that is protected.

After the tree has been felled, another tag (carrying the same identity number) is hammered into the stump.

“The barcode gives a record of where exactly the tree stands in the forest,” said Mr Charter.

“Ultimately, it will create a map of the forest. It also records the species and what that tree would be expected to yield. All this information is stored in our database in Reading.

“If you went into a furniture retailer on the high street and asked where a garden table came from, they will look at the ticket and say it is from a forest in Bolivia but they have no proof – that’s just where they have been told it is from or where the invoice was paid.

“With our system you could go to our website, type in the tree’s identity number and it will show you a map of Liberia and then zoom into the stump where your timber was harvested from. The current principle is that the country can use that information to market its natural resources to the buyer.”

The government hopes that the first tagged log will be exported before the end of the year.

Some conservationists have criticised Liberia’s plans to cut down trees – sustainably or not – instead of setting aside its rainforest for carbon offsetting.

Employment is the government’s biggest argument in favour of logging, together with the tax revenues it will generate.

It is estimated that the forestry sector could employ 10,000 people directly by 2012 and another 30,000-40,000 indirectly.

US Aid, the American development agency, together with the UN and the World Bank, have invested $20m in the country’s forestry sector to prevent a return to the days of illegal logging.

The result is that not a single log has been exported from Liberia since the lifting of the embargo three years ago.

Peter Lowe, forestry co-ordinator at the World Bank, said: “Liberia really has bravely taken the challenge to set regional standards in forest conservation.

“[Barcoding] is the most sophisticated system I’ve seen because it requires levels of transparency that don’t normally exist.”

Source: The Times newspaper

Date: 22/03/2009

DR Congo cancels timber contracts


The Democratic Republic of Congo government has cancelled nearly 60% of timber contracts in the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, the BBC News website reports.

It follows a six-month review of 156 logging deals aimed at stamping out corruption in the sector and enforcing legal and environmental standards.

At the end of the World Bank-backed process, government ministers found that only 65 timber deals were viable.

New contracts will be issued for 90,000 sq km (35,000 square miles) of forest.

Environment Minister Jose Endundo told a news conference in the capital Kinshasa that the other agreements would be cancelled.

“I will proceed within the next 48 hours to notify those applicants having received an unfavourable recommendation from the inter-ministerial commission through decrees cancelling their respective conventions,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

“Upon notification of the cancellation decision, the operator must immediately stop cutting timber.”

Mr Endundo also said the government planned to respect a moratorium, introduced during Congo’s 1998-2003 war but widely ignored, on granting new logging deals.

The BBC’s Thomas Fessy in Kinshasa says all the timber agreements were struck during the conflict.

Amid rampant corruption, huge concessions were gifted to logging companies, which paid almost no tax, he says.

Monday’s decision should reduce the surface area exploited by timber firms by up to half, according to our correspondent.

The Congo Basin is home to the second largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon, but campaigners say it is being eaten away by logging, mining and agricultural land clearance.

Sarah Shoraka, of Greenpeace, says the new rules must be enforced to protect a vital resource.

“Real economic development is what’s needed,” she told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

“We’ve highlighted tax evasion, and there’s often quite serious disputes between local people and these logging companies.

“The logging companies promise hospitals and schools and they hardly ever deliver these things on the ground.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 19/01/2009

EU crack-down on imports of illegal timber


The European Union has taken steps to crack down on illegal timber imports, according to the European Commission.

On its website, the Commission said that illegal logging destroyed millions of acres of forest each year.

It warned that much of the timber ended up in Europe, one of the world’s largest markets for wood products like lumber, plywood and furniture.

About 20% of these imports came from trees that were illegally felled, it added.

Until now, the EU has promoted voluntary action to curb illegal logging. But under a new legislative proposal unveiled on 17 October, importers would have to take certain steps to verify the wood is legal.

The regulation would also apply to timber producers in the EU, where illegal logging has been reported in some countries.

Research shows that illegal logging is wreaking environmental havoc, accelerating deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change.

Deforestation also accounts for almost a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Commission warned that the problem was getting worse, adding that more than half of logging now occurred in vulnerable regions, such as the Amazon basin, central Africa, and south-east Asia.

In some countries, illegal logging is so rampant it far outstrips legal timber production.

Deforestation is expected to be a priority in the upcoming international talks on climate change. The Commission is proposing a global scheme to reward developing countries for cuts in greenhouse gases achieved by reducing deforestation.

The Commission’s website stated: “Illegal logging is not just a problem for the environment.

“It robs indigenous and local people of jobs and resources, and it fosters corruption and organised crime, with profits often used to fund regional wars.

“It also costs governments billions of euros in lost revenues and undermines the competitiveness of legal logging operations in both importing and exporting countries.”

Source: European Commission website

Date: 20/10/2008

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