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Papua New Guinea Forest Figures

Forest Cover
Total forest area: 29,437,000 ha
% of land area: 65%

Primary forest cover: 25,211,000 ha
% of land area: 55.7%
% total forest area: 85.6%

Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -139,000 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.5%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: 4.5%
Total forest loss since 1990: -2,086,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-6.6%

Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: -250200 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.9%
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 0.5%
Primary forest loss since 1990: -1,251,000 ha
Primary forest loss since 1990:-13.7%

Forest Classification
Public: 3.1%
Private: 0%
Other: 96.9%
Production: 24.8%
Protection: n/a
Conservation: 4.6%
Social services: n/a
Multiple purpose: 4.9%
None or unknown: 65.7

Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 29,437,000 ha
Primary: 25,211,000 ha
Modified natural: 4,134,000 ha
Semi-natural: n/a
Production plantation: 92,000 ha
Production plantation: n/a

Plantations, 2005: 92,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 0.3%
Annual change rate (00-05): 1,980,000 ha

Carbon storage
Above-ground biomass: n/a M t
Below-ground biomass: n/a M t

Area annually affected by
Fire: n/a
Insects: n/a
Diseases: n/a

Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: n/a
Critically endangered: n/a
Endangered: n/a
Vulnerable: n/a

Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 2,001,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 6,363,000 m3 o.b.

Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $6,330,000
Wood fuel: n/a
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: $6,330,000

More forest statistics for Papua New Guinea

The island of New Guinea, the second largest in the world, has one of the last great expanses of tropical rainforest. Although much of this area is still untouched and in some remote regions natives may have never seen a white-skinned person, the rainforest is rapidly being developed in more accessible regions. Today the island is divided into two parts: the independent country of Papua New Guinea (eastern half), and the Indonesian province of Papua and West Papua [formerly Irian Jaya] (western half). This summary regards the eastern half, Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Each year 50,000-60,000 ha are cleared totally and permanently: 50% for agriculture, 25-30% for industrial logging, and the rest for infrastructure. However, up to 100,000 additional ha are affected by selective logging. Almost all logging in New Guinea is conducted by Malaysian logging firms. Typically these timber companies pay landowners very little—about $4-12 per cubic meter—for logs, but charge up to $160 per cubic meter.

Since the late 1990s when the government tried to place restrictions on logging operations and faced an ugly rebuke from logging companies, there have been large grants of lowland rainforest for industrial logging under suspicious circumstances. Timber operators, knowing Papua New Guinea is rife with corruption, have generously bribed politicians and forestry officials to illegally acquire logging rights to land. In the most notorious incident, Malaysia-based Rimbunan Hijau was caught by the country's intelligence agency using bribes to secure leases and employing a terror campaign against local people. Rimbunan Hijau now has control of about 1.6 million hectares between the Western Province Border and Central Province according to an October 2005 article in Scoop.

While the government has faced widespread criticism of its handling of foreign loggers, in the summer of 2005 parliament passed controversial amendments to the country's forestry act that would enable loggers and the forest minister to be directly involved in the allocation of timber permits thereby worsening the forest management situation.

Despite the increase in logging concessions, deforestation has not increased significantly in Papua New Guinea since the end of the 1990s. While some 4 million hectares of primary forest was razed between 1990 and 2005, the annual average deforestation rate has held at about 1 percent per year.

A second major cause behind environmental degradation in Papua New Guinea is the mining industry. Some of these mining related issues were brought to light during the 1997 debacle caused when the government called in foreign mercenaries to end the decade-long uprising on Bouganville Island, a key copper producing site. The island, which is ecologically and geographically part of the Solomon Islands, bore environmental scars from ongoing mining operations which brought few benefits to the average local but polluted rivers and damaged adjacent agricultural lands. Mining had similar impacts on the main island of New Guinea. In the best known case, Australia/UK-based BHP Billiton paid indigenous peoples living along the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers $28.6m in an out-of-court compensation settlement for damages caused by mining operations. Reports from the field suggest that despite the payment, the mine is carrying on business-as-usual, dumping mine wastes into local rivers. Ok Tedi Mining Ltd., the company that operates the mine, has itself acknowledged that more than 200,000 hectares of rainforest could be affected by operations according to a report by the World Resources Institute.

The Papuan government has been slow to address mining pollution and associated deforestation due to the importance of mining for the national economy. PNG's rich mineral endowment, coupled with petroleum, accounts for 25% of GDP and 72% of export revenue.

The third, and most significant, threat to Papua New Guinea's forests is agricultural expansion. The country's high population growth rate means increasing amounts of land are converted for subsistence agriculture. Typically fire is used for land-clearing and at times—especially during dry el Niño years—agricultural fires can burn out of control. During the 1997-1998 el Niño event, fires burned thousands of hectares of dried-out forest while thousands of people died from food shortages and famine in the central highlands.

As Papua New Guinea's forests are lost and degraded, it also loses its diversity of plants, animals and indigenous people. Some 700 languages—more than 10 percent of Earth's tounges—are spoken in New Guinea, and there are at least as many indigenous societies. When developers enter a community, tribesmen are often forced to choose between their native way of life or selling their lands. At times tribal elders do not understand that the agreement they sign will take away their livelihood and may spell an end for their culture. They often believe that loggers merely wish to "use" their lands, not convert the forest into scrub or savanna.

Biodiversity-wise, Papua New Guinea has some 1571 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles, of which, 25.6% are endemic and and 7.0% are threatened. Papua New Guinea is home to at least 11544 species of vascular plants. In November 2005, the Papuan government announced plans to create 12 new protected areas that would add 771,451 hectares to the country's park system—an increase of almost 50 per cent.

At the 2005 United Nations summit on climate change in Montreal, Papua New Guinea led a coalition of tropical developing countries in proposing a plan whereby wealthy countries would pay poor countries to preserve their rainforests. A modified version of the proposal was accepted by the UN.

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Last updated: 4 Feb 2006

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