Action Alert: Protect Woodlark Island’s Pacific Rainforests and Indigenous Forest Gardens from Corrupt Logging

Woodlark Island – a small Pacific Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG), covering some 80,000 hectares of biodiverse rainforest, and containing a largely intact Pacific culture practicing agro-ecology in forest gardens – is again threatened with ecocide and cultural genocide. Imminent industrial rainforest logging on Woodlark Island, as well as a planned gold mine, will endanger the island’s flora and fauna, destroy unique intact lowland island rainforests causing environmental upheaval, and result in drastic and negative cultural change and worsened and permanent poverty. In 2007-08 EcoInternet successfully spearheaded an international campaign that protected Woodlark Islands rainforests and peoples from oil palm development (Mongabay heralded the successful campaign). We are called once again to demand no industrial clearing of Woodlark’s rainforests and recognition of indigenous land rights. PNG's continued well-being and community advancement depend critically upon ending industrial old-growth forest logging to base development upon standing old forests.

By, a project of EcoInternet - December 20, 2014

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Additional Background

Woodlark Island is a beautiful and isolated Pacific Island, whose intact lowland rainforests and indigenous culture make it an ecological and cultural treasure. The island, located off the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea, contains some of the last relatively intact and large lowland island rainforests in the Pacific Islands, and has supported native subsistence groups practicing sustainable agro-forestry for thousands of years. Yet now its lush rainforests and unique forest gardens are once again threatened by immediate plans to log up to half of the island by Malaysian logging company Karridale Limited.

Woodlark Island is an ecological hotspot, possessing incredibly value as a relatively intact example of lowland island rainforest, and as home to at least 42 endemic species. The Woodlark cuscus (Phalanger lullulae) – listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List – is a nocturnal marsupial that looks like a large teddy bear. The other 41 described species to date include seven frogs, four reptiles, seven plants, four insects, and 19 land snails. Many of these unique species have tiny geographic ranges and are unable to migrate off the small island, and are thus highly vulnerable to major industrial disturbances. It is virtually certain that many other species exist on the island that are not found elsewhere, as thorough biological surveys have not been conducted. The island's many unique species are due to its geographic isolation, as it was never a part of the mainland of Papua New Guinea, though it sits less than 200 miles offshore.

Customary land owners on Woodlark Island rely on the forest and land for their livelihoods and fear loss of control over large swaths of the island. Woodlark Island continues to maintain a social and ecological system that has supported human and other life for millennia; with healthy forests, wildlife and humans. Woodlark Island’s population is very dependent on their forests with most islanders making a living from small-scale gardening, hunting, and pig-herding. Islanders have shaped their island's ecosystem through the creation of meadows and sago orchards, yet much of the island remains covered in old growth forest. Those opposing the project locally are concerned with disintegration of the native culture from socially unacceptable behavior and starvation as gardening and hunting activities are displaced.

Malaysian loggers have long been characterized as “robber barons”, and have been pillaging Papua New Guinea for decades. Following a well-established pattern of gross human rights abuses by Malaysian loggers in Papua New Guinea; after sham token local consultations, and against the majority of local wishes, Karridale Limited has already landed machinery on the island. Karridale Limited, a Malaysian company, currently holds a Timber Authority over the Woodlark Island. But the actual logging will be undertaken by a subcontracting company named Woodlark Resources Limited which is a front company owned by two foreigners. There has been a long history of conflict between mostly Malaysian loggers and indigenous communities in Papua New Guinea. A solid majority of villagers oppose the project, and were not even aware of it until after its approval and the landing of equipment. A camp has been built and the company is waiting for final approval to begin logging.

The logging may overlap with a gold mining concession held by an Australian company called Kula Gold. The company's mining concession covers 45,000 hectares, or more than half of the island. The company plans to dump the mine's toxic tailings into the sea just off the island. The proposed Kula Gold mine would also decimate the island’s ecology, and while early in its planning, the PNG government recently acquired a 5% participating interest in the project.

Woodlark Islanders continue to press the government of Papua New Guinea for community land rights. One thing is clear: residents have not been sufficiently informed about the environmental consequences of three open pits and logging half the island. The logging and follow-up land uses would cause many of these rare species to go extinct, and toxic waste and runoff will threaten freshwater, marine ecosystems, and the unique agro-ecological gardening practices. Loss of intact forests will lead to at most a couple years of consumer goods, and then lasting impoverishment as forest materials are no longer available for food and building materials. Many options exist for long-lasting community advancement based upon standing old-growth forests.

Woodlark’s deforestation plans are but one instance of an epidemic of illegal logging sweeping across Papua New Guinea – and continue a failed ecocidal and genocidal Pacific development model that ravages local peoples and the environment. Across PNG some 5.5 million hectares have been stolen from indigenous landholders by unlawful logging operations under the guise of agricultural development. Deeply embedded political corruption, whereby Malaysian loggers bribe local politicians, means at least 70% of logging in the country is illegal – and 100% of industrial logging is environmentally damaging and fails to provide lasting local advancement. EcoInternet campaigns against illegal logging in Papua New Guinea and globally have been successful for decades. Let’s together stop the industrial ecocide and cultural genocide of the Malaysian logging industry in Woodlark, and in PNG and the world, once and for all.

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Woodlack Cuscus threatened by Malaysian loggers
The endemic Woodlark Cuscus may well go extinct if its habitat is cleared by logging and gold mining  (link)

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cc:  PNG Embassies, Department of Agriculture and Livestock, Investment Promotion Authority, Office of Information and Communication, Department of Treasury, PNG media, Karridale Limited; Mr. Kanawi Pouro, Papua New Guinea Forestry Authority; Department of Environment and Conservation, Investment Promotion Authority

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