Forests lie deep in human consciousness. In almost every culture in the world they are seen as dark dangerous places. The wild wood at the edge of life’s clearing. Inhabited by supernatural beings none too friendly to the locals.
At the end of the 20th century that view is changing. Forests are described emotionally as the lungs of the earth, giving it the oxygen of life. Loggers from the developed North are accused of ‘raping’ the forests of the South. In turn logging is the target of environmental fascism. No longer are there jokes on the level of ‘woodman spare that tree’. Saving forests has become much too serious.
Throughout history forests have been stripped by people seeking fuel. Europe, the Middle East, India all have semi-arid areas which were once thickly forested. Today large areas are still stripped for fuel by poor people who rely on firewood for their cooking and warmth. In certain areas of Papua New Guinea, the forest is endangered not only by firewood collectors but also by slash and burn agriculture. When the logging concessions are handed out these are additional to this ‘natural’ depletion. What is alarming is the accelerating pace of clearances of both kinds.
Estimates suggest that 21% of PNG’s accessible forest has already been logged, including much unnecessarily. 30 to 50 species of tree supply 80% of the market. PNG forests are highly diverse and as many as 240 species are felled. This is terrible wastage. The wastage continues as trees are felled without a care for the direction of fall, excessive clearing is done for access roads, and excessive trimming is carried out once the logs get to the timber yard. If buffer zones are not maintained along river banks water sources dry up or get polluted. Villagers are finding that after the logging is over, reforestation with monospecies like eucalyptus for woodchip badly affects the fertility of the soil. There is no evidence that logging has ever brought permanent development to remote areas.
In PNG people hold ‘custodianship’ over the land, not ownership. Land cannot by alienated by selling it. People, especially women are becoming more aware of their rights whether environmental, conservational, legal or human. It could be that it will take little more than an proper awareness of the problem for it to be solved.