Merbau's last stand

Feature story - 17 April, 2007
Consumer demand for luxury flooring and furniture is driving a rare tree species to commercial extinction. And it will take more than the Australian government's global illegal logging fund to save it.

Precious merbau timber is imported into China.

A new Greenpeace report reveals how the rare tree species, merbau, has been severely depleted. What remains is at high risk of extinction in the wild.

Merbau was once plentiful but today exists in significant commercialquantities only on the island of New Guinea. The logging industry hasset its sights on these last stands. Last month, the Australian government proposed a global fund to deal with illegal logging in Indonesia.

"But," says Greenpeace forests spokesperson, Tiy Chung, "The proposed $200 million fund will do nothing to save merbau, unless the federal government brings in promised legislation to prevent illegal timber entering Australia."

Home renovators and builders in Australia are offered merbau (or kwila) as an attractive high quality timber for flooring, wood panelling, and interior finishing. It is also widely used in outdoor furniture and timber decking. But customers need to seek proof that the product is made from legal timber before they buy.

"The problem with merbau is that smuggling and laundering of illegally logged trees is so rife that no one can really trust the paperwork, especially from China or Indonesia," says Tiy Chung. "Customers should know that by purchasing merbau they are buying a species that is facing extinction in the wild."

Once plentiful, now almost gone

Greenpeace maps show that 83 per cent of the merbau forests on New Guinea have been logged or are allocated for logging. Only 17 per cent is not yet on the chopping block.

Click on map for full animation

This map also shows the trade routes of merbau from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (in full animation mode, click on the Navigation button and select Trade Flow).

Merbau is rare and slow-growing, taking 75 years to reach commercial size. One hectare of its range may contain only one tree. At the current rate of officially sanctioned logging, most of the remaining merbau will be gone within the next 35 years (as this is the official rotation cycle for logging). However, this figure doesn't even take into account illegal logging of this very profitable timber.

The "Merbau's Last Stand" report identifies several illegal routes used to smuggle merbau logs out of Indonesia to China. This timber ends up in Australia in wood products, such as furniture and flooring. Stores that sell merbau for flooring, decking and outdoor furniture need to provide proof to customers that the product is made from legal timber.

People purchasing timber products should avoid merbau as a product under severe threat of extinction.

To save this species, Greenpeace demands that:
  • The Australian government should live up to its 2004 promise to pass strong legislation preventing illegal timber entering Australia.
  • Wood manufacturing companies that continue to purchase merbau for luxury products should immediately adopt credible third-party chain-of-custody procedures to ensure the legal supply of merbau. These companies should request that their suppliers pursue certification according to the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council™(FSC®) within three years.
  • The Indonesian and Papua New Guinea governments should immediately list merbau on Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) with quotas severely restricting the trade in this highly vulnerable species.
  • The governments of the states where merbau is found should immediately embark on participatory landscape-level planning processes, leading to the establishment of a large-scale network of protected areas.
  • All governments should participate in bilateral and multilateral international cooperation.