Study: PNG forests maintaining quality

Editorial, Normal

The National – Thursday, June 23, 2011

A STUDY, funded through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), has found that PNG’s native forests maintain significant environmental qualities after log harvesting.
The findings confirm the view that the overwhelming majority of PNG’s forestry industry operates sustainably, with good forest regeneration following harvesting operations. 
The recently concluded ACIAR project – Assessment, management and marketing of goods and services from cutover native forests in Papua New Guinea – aimed to classify the country’s secondary forests in terms of condition and capacity for future growth.
According to the project’s final report, a large proportion of cutover forests of PNG are in good condition following harvesting.
An associated study collected data from 120 permanent sample plots in cutover forest, 20% of which had been subjected to wildfires that occurred in the extra-ordinary 1997 El Nino drought.
Of those plots unaffected by fires, “75% were increasing in timber volume at rates that could sustain a future harvest”.
Findings concur with international studies that show the secondary and harvested forests maintain significant biodiversity value.
A report, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Science last year, showed that Southeast Asian forests continue to maintain significant biodiversity values, even after repeated logging.
ACAIR’s final report appears to show that commercial harvesting operations in PNG’s native forests are sustainable.
It adds to the body of evidence already demonstrating that NGO allegations of rampant forest destruction in PNG are baseless.
At a recent global environmental policy summit in Brazzaville, world leaders rejected demands of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that countries commit to a target of zero net deforestation by 2020.
The NGO pushed for participating countries to adopt a firm pact for forest protection but instead the parties produced for a declaration of goodwill relating to biodiversity, climate, and the economic and social importance of tropical forest basins.
The summit brought together 35 countries from the three largest tropical forest regions – Amazon Basin, Congo Basin and South East Asia – and had sought to reach a global agreement on management and conservation of tropical forests.
Most of the 35 countries are developing economies.
The deliberations showed the extent to which WWF’s agenda is divorced from development and poverty reduction.
According to media reports, the agreement lacks tangible goals, instead requiring participating nations to “put forward their common interest in the framework of different multilateral forums” and to “adopt concrete measures to promote dialogue and cooperation between countries”.
Notably, during the summit the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) released a report indicating that rates of deforestation in tropical forest basins are decreasing.
The report – entitled The State of the Forests in the Amazon Basin, Congo Basin and Southeast Asia – found that the rate of deforestation in the three basins fell 25% during this decade, compared with the previous one.
According to the FAO report, that annual rate of deforestation across the three regions was 5.4 million hectares between 2000 and last year, down a quarter from 7.1 million hectares in the previous decade.
PNG’s forest resources were included in the study.
The study found that the rate of deforestation fell dramatically in Southeast Asian forests over the last 20 years.
The annual rate of change was – 0.41% in 2000-10, more than half the annual rate of change in the previous decade (-0.96% per year). 
The policy developments are notable on two accounts.
First, an increasing body of literature is confirming that tropical forest resources are not being reduced at alarming rates.
Second, developing countries are waking up to the eco-centric demands of anti-development environmental NGOs.
Meanwhile, a recent study by University of Helsinki and The Rockefeller University academics highlights the importance of forest density in carbon sequestration.
The findings indicate that the size of trees and the density of forests – rather than just the area it covers – needed to be taken into account when measuring the potential for carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration.
The report, based on a survey of 68 nations, found that forest density is increasing, as is the amount of CO2 stored in forests.
In Europe and North America, the amount of stored CO2 increased between 2000 and last year despite little change in forest area; while in Asia, density grew in the decade between 1990 and 2000, and fell slightly between 2000 and last year as forest area expanded.
The findings will disappoint anti-growth NGOs which have tried to hijack international environmental policy developments by pressuring countries to conserve large forest areas, in order to maintain carbon sinks and biodiversity.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), for example, requires national targets for 10% of terrestrial area to be set aside as protected areas.
These measures harm economic development – they restrict the availability of productive land for commercial use, as well as revenue derived from forestry operations.
Emerging findings now show that they do so without necessarily improving environmental outputs.
The proposals for moratoria – such as that recently finalised in Indonesia and being consideration in PNG – follow this failing logic.
These are blanket solutions that focus on increasing the size of conservation areas.
Size may be one factor in conservation biology, but emerging literature paints a more nuanced picture.
When it comes to forest policy, the marketing mantra – bigger is better – should certainly not be confused with scientific doctrine.
Effective conservation measures should be targeted to focus on areas of ecological value.
Size of the area is one measurement, but should be calibrated with other measurements such as diversity, rarity, naturalness, representativeness, cultural criteria and forest density.
By focusing on smaller areas of targeted forests rather than large tracts, developing countries are better able to preserve important forest resource.
Often, developing countries find large conservation areas are simply too big for under-resourced management authorities to protect.
Measures to protect endangered species or habitats do not require across the board cessation forest conversion, but rather the designation of scientifically demarked conservation areas and establishment of deliberate conservation strategies.
Through a strategic scientific approach, improved conservation results can be achieved through selective measures without impeding on development needs of countries such as PNG. – World Growth