Post-Courier 2 March 2006 “Our Forest Becoming a Source of Shame”
From: Bob Tate []
Sent: Thursday, 2 March 2006 4:43 PM
To: ''

I refer to your editorial, PC 2-3-06, “Our Forest Becoming a Source of Shame” and would bring to the attention of your readers the inaccurate statements and sensational allegations made therein.

Forest Trends is an environmental lobby group which receives substantial support from donors and the World Bank and, actually employs ex World Bank consultants. They are obviously totally out of touch with the PNG situation and are unaware of government and National Forest Board initiatives to rectify valid issues raised in the so called independent reviews of the timber industry. These were approved by NEC in 2003 and the Forest Board has actively pursued their implementation. It should be noted that this has included certain timber permit reviews and amendments and recommended changes to the Forest Act which met such strong opposition from the environmental lobby.

Anyone who pretends to have any knowledge of the industry can certainly argue with your editorial claim that the industry is predominantly focused on round log exports. Industry a long time ago accepted the need for a shift to downstream processing and in the last 10 years processed exports have grown by over 300 % to now exceed US$ 35 million pa. The log volume used in processing is now close to half the total commercial log harvest each year. Timber processing is the fastest growing manufacturing sector in the PNG economy and industry is confident that such expansion can be maintained into the future.

In PNG we are fortunate to have adopted a selective logging regime which ensures continued re-growth of the natural forest after initial harvesting. All the scientific data indicates PNG’s sustainable commercial log harvest is 3.3 million cubic meters per year. This harvest level has never been exceeded and last year for example was only some 2.6 million m3. PNG is indeed fortunate that whilst maintaining a sustainable forest industry we have also maintained one of the highest tree cover rates in the developing world, in excess of 70% of our land area is still classified as forest covered.

The causes of deforestation vary between countries and include such factors as population growth, rural poverty, subsistence agriculture, natural events such as fires, land conversion from forests to farming or plantations, and other developments such as mining, road constructions and urban expansion as had occurred for example in Port Moresby and Lae. In a developing country like PNG, where there is no alternate source of energy, the use of wood for heating, cooking and other traditional uses can also impact on forest the FAO division of the United Nations has estimated that such uses in PNG account for as much as 5.4 million m3 of logs each year.

The need to seriously address the development of new and maintenance of exiting forest plantations is not questioned. What is in doubt is the ability and commitment of those authorities responsible for replanting, and who have collected tens of millions of Kina in reforestation levies from industry, but we are yet to see any results.

Your editorial claim that infrastructure provided by the operators, roads, bridges, health and education buildings, either revert to bush or won’t survive 10 or 20 years, is not supported by the Audit of Landowner Benefits, also carried out at the behest of the World Bank in 1996-98. The fact that such infrastructure deteriorates over time is not unique to the forest industry, regular on going maintenance is required. Again industry can point to many examples of complete “mini townships” being abandoned due to lack of funding and maintenance when these facilities are handed over to the appropriate government agencies.

Your statement regarding the “relative handful of landowners who are fortunate to receive royalties” is both incorrect and smacks of neo-colonialism. As trees are harvested they are identified by landowner and that landowner receives his royalty. This is a change from previous practice where all landowners in a timber area share the royalty. Other monetary benefits maybe shared depending on the terms of agreement reached during project negotiations. According to data based on the last national census one in ten people in PNG derive directly of indirectly some benefit from the forest industry – hardly a relative handful. How the landowners choose to spend their money is entirely their own decision. The assumption that landowners are incapable of making any sort of informed decision in their own best interest is naïve. Certainly any move by government to administer the money on their behalf would be strongly opposed, and who could blame them given the endless tales of financial mis-management coming from Waigani.

Robert Tate
Executive Officer

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