Industrial logging companies and government officials are systematically abusing community logging permits in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to bypass a freeze on new logging concessions, says a new report by Global Witness. The "Artisanal Logging Permits" are designed to allow Congolese communities to carry out small-scale logging in local forests. But in practice, the permits are being used by foreign loggers to exploit Congo’s forests on an industrial scale, for export of high-quality timbers such as Wenge (an IUCN Red Listed endangered species), primarily to buyers in China, for finished products exported to Europe and the United States. The report, entitled "The art of logging industrially in Congo," finds 146 artisanal permits have been handed out to loggers in Bandundu Province alone since 2010, affecting an area equivalent to more than 11,000 football pitches. Artisanal permits – meant to be harvested with longsaws and chainsaws – are being given to overseas logging companies, who enter the forests with heavy machinery such as bulldozers and log loaders.
The Congo basin rainforest covers some 1.5 million square miles and contains 18% of the planet's remaining tropical rainforest, the Earth's second largest forest wildland, a critical ecosystem which makes the planet habitable. These ecosystem and biodiversity-rich tropical rainforests have over 600 tree species and 10,000 animal species. The rainforests of DRC contain many rare and endemic wildlife species, such as the common chimpanzee and bonobo, forest elephant, mountain gorilla, okapi, and white rhino. Some 60 million people depend upon the Congo basin's rainforests for their sustenance and well-being. The DRC contains 60% of the region's forests, where there is not supposed to be any new logging.
But many logging concessions have been allocated illegally, despite a moratorium on new logging since 2002. In 2009 the World Bank found that 90 concessions were granted either under questionable circumstances or during past moratoriums. Logging operations in the DRC cover 10 million hectares. If the moratorium continues to be violated and is lifted, another 15 million hectares, or a total of 25 million hectares of the Congo (an area larger than the UK), could become open to heavy, industrial primary rainforest logging.
Global Witness indicates that their report has been welcomed by the Congolese Environment Minister and that some initial efforts have been made to address the problem. Yet the assumption that Congo's ancient primary forests will eventually be industrially logged remains unchallenged. In fact, the logging moratorium is being undermined by "sustainable" old-growth forest logging promoted by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), donors, and western NGOs. It is crucial that the myth of industrial-scaled sustainable primary forest logging be revealed and rejected - the science is clear that it is not possible - and that REDD forest carbon funding return to its roots of paying local peoples and governments solely for the protection of old forests such as the Congo.
FSC continues to certify large-scale controversial logging operations in high-risk regions such as the Congo Basin, facilitating the destruction of ancient primary rainforests – the very epitome of High Conservation Value Forests. It is hard for locals to resolve conflicts between competing claims of sustainability, so "green" timber markets are a primary force prying open Congo's rainforests for logging, undermining the moratorium. For the sustainability of local communities and the health of rainforest ecology, as well as to preserve an intact and viable global biosphere, it is essential that Congo’s ancient rainforests remain standing. Call upon the DRC to make the moratorium on industrial rainforest logging a permanent ban, focusing instead upon ecologically sustainable, just, and equitable community advancement from standing old forests.
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Local advancement and global ecological sustainability depend upon standing old growth forests. It is barbaric to cut down primary and old growth rainforests and other old forests, and stupid and hubris to claim it can be done sustainably.
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