Saving Paradise

Feature story - March 3, 2006
In the remote Paradise Forests of Papua New Guinea, illegal and destructive logging continues to threaten both the local communities and the fragile ecosystem. So we have launched a major initiative to help indigenous communities establish their rights to the land they have called home for generations. At the invitation of the local communities, we have established the Global Forest Rescue Station (GFRS) on the western edge of Lake Murray, deep in the Paradise Forests. From the GFRS, our activists from around the world will help members of the Kuni, Begwa and Pari tribes mark out the boundaries of their lands to protect it from loggers.

'Mud men' perform traditional dances to welcome the arrival of the Greenpeace flagship the Rainbow Warrior in Port Moresby's harbour. Greenpeace launches a major initiative to help protect Asia Pacific's last remaining ancient rainforests - the 'Paradise Forests - by unveiling its Global Forest Rescue Station in a remote part of Papua New Guinea.

Although in Papua New Guinean law, 97 percent of the land is recognised as being owned by the customary landowners who live there, many tribal boundaries have never been officially recorded. Until this is done the land is effectively up for grabs.

With large-scale industrial logging, the local communities see very little of the huge profits generated by the logging and the forest cannot sustain the level of destruction. For each tree felled for timber at least seventeen others are destroyed, not to mention the impact on the diverse wildlife that the forest support.

"Our forest is like a supermarket and our survival depends on the forest. The forest gives us our homes, our food and our medicine."

- Sep Galeva, Kuni clan leader

But there is a solution. Boundary marking, also known as demarcation, is the first step in allowing the local communities to use the forest in ecologically sustainable ways that doesn't destroy the forest. The GFRS will be used as a base camp to help the local communities mark out around 300,000 hectares of their lands in the Lake Murray region.

The Station isn't just about mapping out land boundaries. Part of the work done there will be to promote small-scale community enterprises that help maintain the forest and bring greater benefits to the communities that live there such as eco-forestry.

Instead of wholesale destruction of the forest with large machines to extract the timber, portable equipment is used to minimise the impact. Trees are milled where they fall and are carried along bush trails and floated out along rivers, and then strict guidelines and monitoring allow the forest to regenerate itself.

The profits from this method of forestry for local communities are also much more than those that trickle down from the logging companies, between four to 10 times greater, all of which is shared among the local communities.

So with community-based solutions the Global Rescue Forest Station will help protect the unique biodiversity of Papua New Guinea. With only one percent of the forests under any kind of protection, there is still a long way to go.