Solomon Islands province bans logging in bid to protect environment

  • The leaders of Central Island province, part of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, have decided not to issue new business licenses to logging and mining companies following a local petition and recent reports detailing the lack of sustainability and legality in the country’s logging sector.
  • Local and international organizations have blamed unsustainable and corrupt logging practices for destroying the islands’ sensitive habitats and creating civil strife among the people who live there.
  • Provincial governments in the Solomon Islands lack the power to block logging outright, leading Central Island province to take the licensing approach to stop new operations.

Central Island province in the Solomon Islands has blocked new logging and mining operations in an apparent attempt to halt the degradation of the archipelago’s sensitive ecosystems.

“With timber on the islands harvested at a hugely unsustainable rate, this is an important first step,” the London-based watchdog organization Global Witness tweeted on Jan. 14.

Timber accounts for nearly one-third of the Solomon Islands’ exports, according to a 2013 study by the World Bank. In October 2018, Global Witness reported that companies were cutting down the country’s trees at a rate that was 19 times what could be considered sustainable.

An aerial view of the Solomon Islands. Image by Jim Lounsbury (Copyrighted free use) via Wikimedia Commons.

The organization also found that more than 12,600 kilometers (7,800 miles) of logging roads snake through the country’s land area.

Central Island province, also called Central Islands or just Central province, is home to Tulagi, the colonial capital of the Solomon Islands, a group of islands stretching east of Papua New Guinea across 1.34 million square kilometers (520,000 square miles) of the South Pacific.

Central Island province is home to megapodes, or brush turkeys, like the Melanesian megapode (Megapodius eremita) pictured here. Image by Joseph Smit (Public domain).

The national government holds the power to permit logging in the country, Patrick Vasuni, the province’s caretaker premier, told ABC Radio Australia. (Vasuni is officially a “caretaker” until the upcoming elections, expected in 2020.)  But companies must also obtain business licenses from provincial governments before they begin operations.

“[T]hat is the area we are banning,” he said, adding that the injunction came on the heels of a local petition to halt logging in the province.

Vaeno Vigulu, who heads the country’s forestry ministry, confirmed by text message to ABC Radio that the order hadn’t come from his agency.

The Solomon Islands have more than 12,600 kilometers (7,800 miles) of logging roads, which open up sensitive habitats to potential degradation and destruction. Image courtesy of Global Witness.

Conservation groups have long warned that logging and mining are destroying highland, rainforest and coastal habitats throughout the country, along with inciting societal strife. Global Witness’s investigation found that 82 percent of the Solomons’ exported logs end up in China, with much of it potentially having been harvested illegally, unsustainably, or both.

That fact “should really be alarming for Chinese businesses and policymakers,” Beibei Yin, a campaigner with Global Witness, told Mongabay at the time.

Global Witness also recommended a logging moratorium until authorities could address the logging sector’s corruption, sustainability and legal issues. Absent such a directive from the national government, it appears that Central Island province has stepped in to protect its environment.

“Whilst we are still getting more information, we believe the province is trying to find [a] new and more sustainable model of development,” Yin said in an email.

Vasuni said he didn’t expect other provinces to follow Central Island’s lead, given their level of economic dependence on logging.

Banner image of a village in the Solomon Islands by Irene Scott/AusAID via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

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This story first appeared on Mongabay

South Africa Today – Environment

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