Monday, June 30, 2008

State of PNG's Forests

The rate and extent of deforestation in Papua New Guinea has recently been highlighted through the work of scientists at the University of Papua New Guinea's Remote Sensing Center and Australian National University in a recent report (Shearman et. al. 2008) and further reported on in several news articles (see listing below which has been compiled by Robin Hide). The topic of deforestation and the role of forests is also highlighted in the recent issue ofScience (13 June 2008).

The first detailed assessment of PNG's forests, the report is an informed summary of the state of PNG forests and usefully places them in a global perspective. The report reminds us that PNG possess the sixth most extensive
mangrove forest in the world and the island of New Guinea possess the 'largest area of semi-contiguous
mangroves in the world' (Sherman et. al. 2008: 21). However as many reader's know PNG's forests are under extensive pressure by industrial logging (both legal and illegal) and agricultural projects (oil palm, etc.). Though the report relates news such that almost 60 percent of the forests of eastern islands are accessible to logging and that by 2002, 63 percent had been logged or degraded, the report also relates that 70 percent of PNG
is still forested (counting intact and re-growing forests). The highlight of the report, and what the media has picked up on, is how Sherman et. al. have utilised satellite imagery to
document the extent of transformations in PNG's forests.

Reactions to the report can be found on Science in the Public website. Colin Filer (Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program in RSPAS at ANU), who has for a long time now written about issues around PNG's forests and logging industry, notes the author's unfortunate conflation of deforestation and degradation lead the authors to erronously conclude that ' "half of PNG’s forests will be gone within 13 years". This is a gross exaggeration which might serve some rhetorical or political purpose, but anyone who flies around PNG on a regular basis and can be bothered to look out of an aircraft window must seriously wonder how this change could actually come about.'

Shearman, P.L., Bryan, J.E., Ash, J., Hunnam, P., Mackey, B., Lokes, B. (2008).
The State of the Forests of Papua New Guinea: Mapping the extent and condition
of forest cover and measuring the drivers of forest change in the period 1972-2002
University of Papua New Guinea.

Forest area near Milne Bay in 1990, top,
and 2005.
(University of Papua New Guinea; Image appears in the New York Times 3 June 2008).

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