Tag Archives: logging

Fate of primeval forest in balance as Poland plans logging

It is the last remaining relic of an ancient forest that stretched for millennia across the lowlands of Europe and Russia, a shadowy, mossy woodland where bison and lynx roam beneath towering oak trees up to 600 years old.

Conservationists believe the fate of the Bialowieza Forest, which straddles Poland and Belarus, is more threatened that at any time since the communist era due to a new Polish government plan for extensive logging in parts of the forest.

The plan has pitted the government against environmentalists and many scientists, who are fighting to save the UNESCO world heritage site.

Seven environmental groups, including Greenpeace and WWF, have lodged a complaint with the European Commission hoping to prevent the largescale felling of trees, which is due to begin within days.

Bialowieza has been declared a Natura 2000 site, meaning it is a protected area under European law. EU officials say they are working with the Polish authorities to ensure that any new interventions in the forest are in line with their regulations, but it’s not yet clear what the result will be.

The preservation of Bialowieza is such a sensitive matter that IKEA, which relies on Polish timber for 25 percent of its global furniture production, vowed years ago not to buy any wood from Bialowieza.

“This forest is a Polish treasure but it is also the world’s treasure, and we could lose it,” said Katarzyna Kosciesza from ClientEarth, one of the groups that filed the complaint. “The logging would really threaten it.”

The forest plan is one of many controversial changes that have come with the election last year of a conservative populist party, Law and Justice. The new authorities have been accused by the European Union and human rights groups of eroding democracy and the rule of law.

The party’s powerful leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, says he’s on a mission to remake the country from top to bottom in line with the party’s conservative Catholic and patriotic ideology.

Since taking power in November, Poland’s government has moved quickly to push broad changes in everything from cultural institutions to horse breeding farms and forestry management.

The government argues they are fixing the country by removing the corrupt influences of former communists and pro-Europeans who have held power in recent years.

In the case of Bialowieza, government officials are blaming their predecessors for financial losses from the strict limits on logging. The environment minister, Jan Szyszko, also faulted them for getting the UNESCO world heritage designation, which brings some international oversight.

About 35 percent of the forest on the Polish side includes a national park and reserves, strictly protected zones that the government does not plan to touch. Officials argue the planned logging is not harmful because it will take part only in “managed” parts of the forest that have already been subject to logging in the past.

But environmentalists say the logging plan is so extensive it would inevitably lead to the destruction of old-growth areas.

About half of the forest is still considered pristine, meaning those areas have never faced significant intervention since the forest’s formation some 8,000 to 9,000 years ago after the end of the last ice age. That has left it with a complex diversity of species unknown in the second-growth forests elsewhere in Europe’s lowlands.

That so much has survived is thanks to past Polish and Lithuanian monarchs and Russian czars, who kept it as a royal hunting preserve. Only in the last 100 years has it begun to face logging and human encroachment.

Szyszko has dismissed 32 of 39 scientific experts on the State Council for Nature Conservation after they criticized the logging plan. They have since been replaced by people who mainly come from the forestry and hunting sectors that favor greater wood extraction. They council’s new leader, Wanda Olech-Piasecka, also supports limited commercial hunting of bison, an endangered species.

Szyszko said the new council “will work effectively for the use of natural resources for the benefit of man, which is consistent with the concept of sustainable development.”

The Environment Ministry argues the logging is needed to stop the spread of bark beetle, which has killed off 10 percent of the spruce trees in the park — 3 percent of the trees overall — in an outbreak that began in 2013.

However, scientists believe that is merely a pretext, and that what officials really want are the profits from felling such old-growth wood.

Scientists and environmentalists who oppose the logging plan say removing the dead wood upsets the ecosystem. The dead spruces host thousands of other species, worms and insects and fungi, which then become food for birds, while hollow dying trunks create nesting spaces. Among those who rely on the dead spruces are the pygmy owl, the smallest owl species in Europe, and the three-toed woodpecker, which has a precarious existence in Bialowieza.

Thanks to the bark beetle outbreak, the numbers of the three-toed woodpecker have doubled or possibly tripled, said Rafal Kowalczyk, director of the Mammal Research Institute with the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Scientists fighting the logging say the death of some spruce trees is making way for an increase of other species like hornbeam and lime and is part of the forest’s natural adaptation to climate change, as conditions grow warmer and drier. They also say that it would be necessary to kill 80 percent of infected trees simply to slow the outbreak, which is not logistically possible.

Kowalczyk says the bark beetle outbreaks, which have long been a part of the forest cycle, have never threatened its existence before and won’t now.

“This forest has been shaped for thousands of years by nature,” Kowalczyk added. “It is really unique and we should not turn it into a managed forest. There are many other managed forests but this relic of an ancient forest, with its high diversity, shows us what forests looked like hundreds, even thousands, of years ago.”

Defender of dwindling forests in Cambodia wins Goldman Prize

The latest crackdown on illegal logging in Cambodia is “just a game” and big timber traders are winning, says Leng Ouch, a former government official who has spent two decades helping poor villagers fight poaching of precious tropical forests.

Leng’s tenacious and perilous crusade to stop illegal logging and stop land concessions from forcing Cambodians out of their homes has won him a Goldman Environmental Prize, which honors grassroots environmental activism.

The award follows recent announcements that Cambodian authorities plan to expand protected areas of the Southeast Asian country’s forests by about a third. Long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen, whom many consider a backer of the biggest logging group, Try Pheap, recently said he had authorized rocket attacks on illegal loggers.

But Leng and other critics say reports of raids and other high-profile shows of force against illegal loggers belie the lack of arrests or prosecutions of those cutting and trading in illegal timber.

Asked if the crackdown is for real, he said, “It’s just a game.”

“Nobody was arrested. The media was set up,” Leng said during an interview. “The Ministry of the Environment doesn’t care. They never go inside the jungle to patrol or arrest illegal loggers.”

Much of the timber trade is protected by military units that profit from deals with the loggers, and the stakes of fighting it can be deadly. At least five deaths in Cambodia have been linked to illegal logging since 2007, including that of Leng’s fellow environmentalist Chut Wutthy, who was fatally shot in 2012 while showing journalists a logging camp in the southwest’s Koh Kong province.

It’s a risk shared with other environmental crusaders defying powerful companies and government backers around the world. Honduran indigenous leader and environmentalist Berta Caceres, a winner of a 2015 Goldman Prize, was killed by assailants who broke into her home last month. She had received death threats from police, soldiers and local landowners for her efforts to block construction of a dam.

Leng said he accepts the risks as part of his mission.

“I don’t expect the government to allow me to live long,” he said.

Leng wins $175,000 for this year’s Goldman Prize, as do five other winners.

 

The other winners

  • Zuzana Caputova, a lawyer who led a campaign to shut down a toxic waste dump in Slovakia.
  • Maxima Acuna, a Peruvian farmer fighting major mining companies’ efforts to take her land for a gold and copper mine.
  • Destiny Watford, a Baltimore, Maryland, student who helped prevent construction of a trash incinerator in her area.
  • Edward Loure, a Tanzanian communal land rights leader.
  • Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera, who campaigned to create a nature peserve in Puerto Rico to protect endangered leatherback sea turtles.

Leng travels into the forest armed only with a camera and a GPS locator, tracking illegal loggers. At times he works undercover by cooking for loggers, hauling cargo on docks or posing as a tourist.

Showing determination early on, Leng excelled in his studies in mostly rural Takeo province. When his village chief denied him a permit to travel to Phnom Penh to take university exams, he says he hid on a sugar cane train to get to the city. After studying law, he was assigned to the Foreign Ministry, and later to the Ministry of Planning. Drawn into politics, he moved to a nongovernmental organization and began investigating illegal logging.

Marcus Hardtke, a German environmentalist who lives in Cambodia, says the prize is well-deserved.

“Ouch Leng is one of a handful of people fighting to stop forest destruction in Cambodia,” Hardtke said. “It is up to activists like Leng and affected local communities to make a stand against the short-sighted, greed-driven policies of the Phnom Penh elite. They are doing just that, often at great personal risk.”

Lately, Leng’s attention has focused on a conflict between local villagers and a Chinese company that is developing a massive resort on a choice swath of coastland near the Thai border in Koh Kong province.

Residents complain they were forced off their land and lost their main livelihood of fishing when they were relocated inland after the government granted a 99-year land lease to China’s Tianjin Union Development Group Co., which has built a golf resort and plans a yacht club, casino, villas and other luxury facilities.

“Before, those people could earn $2,500 a year, or about $100 a night fishing. Now they cannot fish because the Chinese company grabbed everything. They have nothing to eat,” Leng said.

The United Nations says land rights conflicts have become Cambodia’s No. 1 human rights issue. Land concessions have forced villagers to make way for plantations and other projects. Meant to promote development, such arrangements often have left communities worse off, critics say.

They’ve also accelerated the loss of precious, diverse forests of increasingly rare tropical timber, as loggers push ever deeper into protected areas and also clear-cut land of less valuable wood that is sometimes sold as fuel for factories.

Cambodia remained heavily forested until relatively recently, thanks in part to lingering battles with Khmer Rouge guerrillas and massive use of land mines during the Vietnam War.

As the economy opened in the early 1990s, investment from China poured in. Forest cover dropped to 48 percent in 2014 from 57 percent in 2010 and 73 percent in 1990, a loss of nearly 3 million hectares of tropical forest. Rosewood, known as “hongmu” in Chinese, is especially prized, and loggers can get $5,000 for a cubic meter of the brightly-hued timber.

Leng, who chairs the Cambodia Human Rights Task Forces organization, says the Goldman Prize money will help support forest patrols and community-level efforts to combat illegal logging.

Like many in Cambodia, he views the government’s record with skepticism.

“The poverty-reduction policy of the government seems to be just to kill the poor people,” Leng said.

“Their ‘master plan’ to improve living standards is set up very well and looks very beautiful. To provide jobs with fair competition and construction of schools, roads, bridges. … To provide land for the people and conserve their houses,” he said. But he added that such talk is generally not put into practice by private companies or the government.

Still, Leng believes he is making headway in convincing the public to resist the loss of their livelihoods and homes.

“Many political parties, government officials, students and monks are involved in forest issues,” Leng said. “The revolution will come from the land and from the forest.”

Forest Service authorized to kill up to 103 spotted owls in national forest

Federal wildlife officials authorized the U.S. Forest Service to kill up to 103 threatened northern spotted owls in 14 timber sales slated for auction this spring in the Klamath National Forest, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Westside Fire Recovery Project will clear-cut 6,800 acres on slopes above the Klamath River where lightning fires in the summer of 2014 affected owl habitat reserves, CBD said in a news release.

“Natural fires restored the forest after decades of fire suppression and gave spotted owls a kitchen full of food,” said Jay Lininger, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Owls can thrive with fire, but they cannot survive clear-cutting after fire.”

In a biological opinion signed on late last week and released on Feb. 25, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that post-fire logging may “incidentally take” 74 adult owls and up to 12-29 juveniles, but will not jeopardize the continued existence of the forest raptor overall.  

The opinion is required by the federal Endangered Species Act before the Forest Service can formally offer the timber sales, which were initially advertised last year.  

More than 70 percent of the area proposed for logging overlaps Late-Successional Reserves designated by the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan to secure old-growth forest habitat for crashing spotted owl populations and prevent their extinction.  

A recently published demographic study found sharp declines of spotted owl populations at an annual rate of nearly 4 percent range-wide from 1985 to 2013. The Klamath Mountains are thought to be the best hope for recovery of the species and a source for long-term repopulation of owls in the Cascades and Coast ranges.  

Despite the owl’s ongoing decline and the scientific recommendation in published literature that post-fire logging should not be conducted within owl territories, the biological opinion allows the Forest Service to remove habitat from up to 57 established activity areas where the owls nest. 

“Clear-cut logging at that scale in occupied habitat is a major setback for spotted owl recovery,” Lininger said. 

The Fish and Wildlife opinion signals for the first time since the regional forest plan went into effect that federal biologists openly disagree about impacts to spotted owl resulting from a post-fire logging project.    

Last fall Dr. Paul Henson, the top Fish and Wildlife official responsible for spotted owl recovery, commented to the Forest Service that logging in the Westside project should be “minimized” where owls remain after fire because large, dead trees will “greatly improve” the quality of forest habitat as it naturally recovers over time.

“In general, most scientists agree that salvage logging does not contribute positively to the ecological recovery of naturally disturbed forests,” Henson wrote. “It is important for (land managers) to seek ways to implement important fuel reduction work without over-utilizing salvage logging that can adversely affect the restoration of natural conditions.”  

Henson also cast doubt on the core rationale advanced by the Forest Service for the project, namely to reduce hazardous fuels and fire danger.

“In our experience many post-fire salvage projects tend to be more opportunistic than part of a larger-scale, proactive strategic planning effort to reduce fire spread and severity,” he wrote.

Foresters also recently wrapped up a separate consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service stating that post-fire logging would harm threatened coho salmon by adding sedimentation to Grider and Walker creeks and reducing egg survival. 

On the Web…

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/northern_spotted_owl/index.html 

Illegal logging in Mexico further imperils monarch butterfly

Illegal logging more than tripled in the monarch butterfly’s wintering grounds In central Mexico, reversing several years of steady improvements, investigators announced Tuesday.

Almost all of the loss occurred in just one rural hamlet in the state of Michoacan. Loggers cut down 47 acres (19 hectares) of trees in San Felipe de los Alzati since last year’s gathering of butterflies. A total of 52 acres (21 hectares) of forest in the reserve were lost overall, including losses due to drought or pests.

That’s the highest figure since 2009, well above the 20 acres (8 hectares) lost in 2014, according to the announcement by the World Wildlife Fund and the Institute of Biology of Mexico’s National Autonomous University. The 2014 loss was about 12 acres (5 hectares) due to logging and 8 acres (3 hectares) to drought.

Illegal logging fell to almost zero in 2012, and experts stressed that 31 of the 32 communities in the reserve had kept logging down to very, very low levels.

The forest canopy is a sort of blanket against cold for the masses of orange-and-black butterflies that form huge clumps on tree branches during their winter stay in Mexico.

Loss of that habitat is just one of the threats to the butterflies’ amazing migration across Canada and the United States to Mexico. The migration is an inherited trait: No butterfly lives to make the full round trip, and it is unclear how they find the route back to the same patch of pine forest each year. Some scientists suggest the butterflies may release chemicals marking the migratory path and fear that if their numbers fall too low, the chemical traces will not be strong enough for others to follow.

This year butterflies that reached the wintering grounds covered 2.79 acres (1.13 hectares), a 69 percent rebound from last February’s 1.65 acres (0.67 hectare), which was the lowest since record-keeping began in 1993. Butterflies cluster so closely together that they are counted by the area they cover, rather than by the number of individuals.

At their peak in 1996, the monarchs covered more than 44.5 acres (18 hectares) in the mountains west of Mexico City. But the overall tendency since then has been a steep, progressive decline. Each time the Monarchs rebound, they do so at lower levels. The species is found in many countries and is not in danger of extinction, but experts fear the migration could be disrupted if very few butterflies make the 3,400-mile (5,470-kilometer) trip.

Largely Indian farm communities in the mountain reserve have received government development funds in return for preserving the 139,000-acre (56,259 hectare) reserve in the mountains west of Mexico City that UNESCO has declared a World Heritage site. Some of the communities earn income from tourist operations or reforestation nurseries to grow and plant saplings. Funding for the hamlet of San Felipe de los Alzati has temporarily been suspended due to the logging there.

The fact that most of last year’s loss also occurred in San Felipe indicates a growing problem there, said Omar Vidal, head of the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico.

“The government has to step up enforcement and start talking more seriously with this community, to find out the causes” behind the logging, Vidal said. Some communities have complained that outside loggers _ sometimes armed _ invade local forests without the consent of the community. Other logging, however, has been the work of locals who few other job opportunities.”

After illegal logging felled hundreds of acres of trees in the reserve between 2003 and 2006, authorities cracked down on illegal sawmills and stepped up incentives to encourage communities to preserve the woods.

“The main problem in Mexico is the lack of protection,” said writer and activist Homero Aridjis, who noted that some officials at the reserve were replaced and that President Enrique Pena Nieto recently appointed his cousin, Alejandro del Mazo, to head the agency that oversees Mexico’s nature reserves.