GIANLUCA CERULLO | Mongabay | Extracts
MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA - A unique island ecosystem and culture lying 270 kilometers off Papua New Guinea is once more in the crosshairs.
Over the past decade, Woodlark Islanders have defended their forests — home to dozens of endemic species found nowhere else on Earth — from a slew of threats from loggers, miners and plantation developers.
Their latest challenge comes from a foreign-owned company, Kulawood Limited, which has applied for a permit to log and clear 30,000 hectares of land. If carried out, this will lead to the destruction of some 40% of the island’s forest.
The company says the logging will be followed by the planting of trees and rubber and cocoa plantations, and that it is part of a wider integrated agriculture and forest plantation project. Yet an in-depth, four-part series published by investigative outlet PNGi casts doubt on this claim.
It throws into question whether the promise of agricultural development is being dangled over Woodlark as a ploy for green-lighting industrial logging. It also reveals how the application process through which Kulawood has sought approval for large-scale forest conversion is “riddled with errors, inconsistencies and false information.”
David Mitchell, director of Eco Custodian Advocates, a community-focused conservation charity in PNG, has worked for many years in the region and says he believes logging is an immediate threat to the island.
“There is something going on in Woodlark to try [and] get logging still. It is remote and difficult to monitor [the situation] unless you are there,” he says….
Scientists say they fear what this project may mean for the island’s staggering biodiversity and the more than 8,000 people who call Woodlark home….
“The massive logging proposed will destroy much of the island’s forests and the essential ecosystem services they provide and jeopardise those species,” says Stuart Pimm, an expert in extinction and professor of conservation at Duke University….
PNGi’s investigative series reveals a troubling backstory to Kulawood’s proposed project.
Before approval for large-scale forest clearance can be given by the PNG Forestry Authority, agricultural projects and the key industry players behind them are supposed to be rigorously vetted by the Department of Agriculture.
This is meant to defend local landowners from a recurring pattern across PNG, where locals are conned by false promises of development into handing over their lands to agricultural companies.
In the case of the Woodlark Integrated Agriculture and Forest Plantation Project, PNGi’s investigation uncovered documents that indicate the Department of Agriculture seems not to have exercised even basic due diligence.
It failed to recognize that Ebony Woods Investment Limited, Kulawood’s local partner, didn’t even officially exist at the time it was granted project approval from the Department of Agriculture on 24 March 2017.
It also failed to realise that Ebony Woods was a “paper company” with no registered assets or staff. Moreover, despite Ebony Woods’ claims to be a “landowner company” controlled and owned by a mixture of landholders, at the time of its application it was under the sole control of a single man, Samson Siguyaru.
The very same Samson Siguyaru, as it happens, who documents indicate bankrolled the transport, accommodation, meals and “all arrangements done” for three officers from the Department of Agriculture trusted to visit Woodlark on 20 August 2018, to vet Ebony Woods’ agroforestry proposal — something PNGi’s report disparages as a “sad reflection on the funding and independence of government departments,” and not promoting of “independence or objectivity.”
PNGi’s investigation found Ebony Woods and Kulawood also failed to properly consult and gain permission from landowners for the proposed agroforestry project.
On paper at least, Papua New Guinea has extremely strong land tenure laws, and its Constitution recognises the right of landowners to determine what happens on their own territory. But these rights seem to have been flouted.