Forest CoverTotal 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, 2000-2005Annual 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 ClassificationPublic: 3.1% Private: 0% Other: 96.9% Use Production: 24.8% Protection: n/a Conservation: 4.6% Social services: n/a Multiple purpose: 4.9% None or unknown: 65.7
Forest Area BreakdownTotal 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
PlantationsPlantations, 2005: 92,000 ha % of total forest cover: 0.3% Annual change rate (00-05): 1,980,000 ha
Carbon storageAbove-ground biomass: n/a M t Below-ground biomass: n/a M t
Area annually affected byFire: n/a Insects: n/a Diseases: n/a
Number of tree species in IUCN red listNumber of native tree species: n/a Critically endangered: n/a Endangered: n/a Vulnerable: n/a
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.
3.5 million ha of Indonesian and Malaysian forest converted for palm oil in 20 years
(11/12/2013) Some 3.5 million hectares (8.7 million acres) of forest in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea was converted for oil palm plantations between 1990 and 2010, finds a comprehensive set of assessments released by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The research, conducted by an international team of scientists from a range of institutions, is presented in a series of seven academic papers that estimate change in land use and greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm expansion in the three countries, review the social and environmental impacts of palm oil production, forecast potential growth in the sector across the region, and detail methods for measuring emissions and carbon stocks of plantations establishing on peatlands.
Scientists outline how to save nearly 70 percent of the world's plant species
(09/05/2013) In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world's land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world's plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world's land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world's plants.
Palm oil licenses provide cover for logging in New Guinea
(08/14/2013) Developers are seeking palm oil concessions to as a means to circumvent restrictions on industrial logging in Papua New Guinea, finds a new study published in the journal Conservation Letters. The research, led by Paul Nelson and Jennifer Gabriel of James Cook University, is based on analysis of 36 proposed oil palm concessions covering nearly 950,000 hectares in PNG. The study assessed the likelihood of the concessions coming to fruition. It found that only five concessions, covering 181,700 ha, are likely to be developed.
Saving the Tenkile: an expedition to protect one of the most endangered animals you've never heard of
(06/05/2013) The tenkile, or the Scott’s tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus scottae) could be a cross between a koala bear and a puppy. With it’s fuzzy dark fur, long tail and snout, and tiny ears, it’s difficult to imagine a more adorable animal. It’s also difficult to imagine that the tenkile is one of the most endangered species on Earth: only an estimated 300 remain. According to the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA), the tenkile’s trouble stems from a sharp increase of human settlements in the Torricelli mountain range. Once relatively isolated, the tenkile now struggles to avoid hunters and towns while still having sufficient range to live in.
Scientists describe over 100 new beetles from New Guinea
(06/03/2013) In a single paper, a team of researchers have succinctly described 101 new species of weevils from New Guinea, more than doubling the known species in the beetle genus, Trigonopterus. Since describing new species is hugely laborious and time-intensive, the researchers turned to a new method of species description known as 'turbo-taxonomy,' which employs a mix of DNA-sequencing and taxonomic expertise to describe species more rapidly.
Could the Tasmanian tiger be hiding out in New Guinea?
(05/20/2013) Many people still believe the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) survives in the wilds of Tasmania, even though the species was declared extinct over eighty years ago. Sightings and reports of the elusive carnivorous marsupial, which was the top predator on the island, pop-up almost as frequently as those of Bigfoot in North America, but to date no definitive evidence has emerged of its survival. Yet, a noted cryptozoologist (one who searches for hidden animals), Dr. Karl Shuker, wrote recently that tiger hunters should perhaps turn their attention to a different island: New Guinea.
Scientists: bizarre mammal could still roam Australia
(01/03/2013) The continent of Australia is home to a wide variety of wonderfully weird mammals—kangaroos, wombats, and koalas among many others. But the re-discovery of a specimen over a hundred years old raises new hopes that Australia could harbor another wonderful mammal. Examining museum specimens collected in western Australia in 1901, contemporary mammalogist Kristofer Helgen discovered a western long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijnii). The surprise: long-beaked echidnas were supposed to have gone extinct in Australia thousands of years ago.
The year in rainforests
(12/31/2012) 2012 was another year of mixed news for the world's tropical forests. This is a look at some of the most significant tropical rainforest-related news stories for 2012. There were many other important stories in 2012 and some were undoubtedly overlooked in this review. If you feel there's something we missed, please feel free to highlight it in the comments section. Also please note that this post focuses only on tropical forests.
New Guinea singing dog photographed in the wild for the first time
(12/03/2012) A rarely seen canine has been photographed in the wild, likely for the first time. Tom Hewitt, director of Adventure Alternative Borneo, photographed the New Guinea singing dog during a 12-day expedition up a remote mountain in Indonesian Papua. Very closely related to the Australian dingo, the New Guinea singing dog, so named for its unique vocalizations, has become hugely threatened by hybridization with domesticated dogs.
'Exporting deforestation': China is the kingpin of illegal logging
(11/29/2012) Runaway economic growth comes with costs: in the case of China's economic engine, one of them has been the world's forests. According to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), China has become the number one importer of illegal wood products from around the world. Illegal logging—which threatens biodiversity, emits carbon, impoverishes local communities, and is often coupled with other crimes—has come under heavy pressure in recent years from the U.S., the EU, and Australia. Each of these has implemented, or will soon implement, new laws that make importing and selling illegal wood products domestic crimes. However, China's unwillingness to tackle its vast appetite for illegal timber means the trade continues to decimate forests worldwide.
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil hits 10 year mark
(10/04/2012) The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is holding its tenth annual meeting later this month. The initiative, which aims to improve the social and environmental performance of palm oil production through a certification standard, has advanced considerably during that time, moving from an idea to a reality: RSPO-certified palm oil now accounts for 12 percent of global palm oil production. Yet the RSPO is not without controversy. Some palm oil companies say its criteria are too costly to adopt and are therefore discriminatory, while environmental critics argue its bar for "sustainable" palm oil is too low and the loopholes allow producers to claim membership even if they aren't actually producing certified palm oil across all their holdings. Nonetheless the RSPO has support from many of the world's largest palm oil producers, traders, and consumers as well as the biggest NGOs.
Controversial deep sea mining project approved in Papua New Guinea, first of its kind
(08/09/2012) The Papua New Guinea government has granted a 20-year license for copper and gold mining around a mile (1.6 kilometers) below the ocean's surface, jump-starting the world's first commercial deep sea mining venture. Undertaken by Canadian company, Nautilus Minerals, the venture will mine deep sea hydrothermal vents off the coast of New Britain. However, the project faces stiff concern from local activists, fishermen, and environmentalists.
'National scandal:' foreign companies stripped Papua New Guinea of community-owned forests
(07/30/2012) Eleven percent of Papua New Guinea's land area has been handed over to foreign corporations and companies lacking community representation, according to a new report by Greenpeace. The land has been granted under controversial government agreements known as Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs), which scientists have long warned has undercut traditional landholding rights in the country and decimated many of Papua New Guinea's biodiverse rainforests. To date, 72 SABLs have been granted—mostly to logging companies—covering an area totaling 5.1 million hectares or the size of Costa Rica.
Police hired by loggers in Papua New Guinea lock locals in shipping containers
(04/16/2012) Locals protesting the destruction of their forest in Papua New Guinea for two palm oil plantations say police have been sent in for a second time to crack-down on their activities, even as a Commission of Inquiry (COI) investigates the legality of the concession. Traditional landowners in Pomio District on the island East New Britain say police bankrolled by Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau (RH) have terrorized the population, including locking people in shipping containers for three consecutive nights. The palm oil concessions belongs to a company known as Gilford Limited, which locals say is a front group for RH.
Papua New Guinea halts controversial nickel mine - for now
(04/16/2012) A massive, controversial nickel mine has been shut down in Papua New Guinea due to the environmental concerns of its slurry pipeline, reports Cultural Survival. Inspections of the 83 mile (134 kilometer) slurry pipeline found that it had been built too close to a major highway with spills already impacting traffic. Built by the Chinese state company Metallurgical Construction Corporation (MCC), the Ramu Nickel Mine has been plagued by land issues, labor disputes, and environmental concerns.
Margaret Southern: small efforts can add up to big impact
(02/13/2012) Margaret Southern writes about international conservation strategies and projects for The Nature Conservancy's editorial strategy team. She also writes about green living for TNC's Cool Green Science blog. She recently started All Hands On Earth, an organization which informs the public about the little things anyone can do to make a positive impact on the planet. Southern's newest project is Picnic for the Planet, an Earth Day celebration, which begins next month.
New book series hopes to inspire research in world's 'hottest biodiversity hotspot'
(01/17/2012) Entomologist Dmitry Telnov hopes his new pet project will inspire and disseminate research about one of the world's last unexplored biogeographical regions: Wallacea and New Guinea. Incredibly rich in biodiversity and still full of unknown species, the region, also known as the Indo-Australian transition, spans many of the tropical islands of the Pacific, including Indonesia's Sulawesi, Komodo and Flores, as well as East Timor—the historically famous "spice islands" of the Moluccan Archipelago—the Solomon Islands, and, of course, New Guinea. Telnov has begun a new book series, entitled Biodiversity, Biogeography and Nature Conservation in Wallacea and New Guinea, that aims to compile and highlight new research in the region, focusing both on biology and conservation. The first volume, currently available, also includes the description of 150 new species.
New frog trumps miniscule fish for title of 'world's smallest vertebrate'
(01/12/2012) How small can you be and still have a spine? Scientists are continually surprised by the answer. Researchers have discovered a new species of frog in Papua New Guinea that is smaller than many insects and dwarfed by a dime. The frog trumps the previously known smallest vertebrate—a tiny fish—by nearly 1 millimeter.
The year in review for rainforests
(12/28/2011) 2011 was designated as "Year of the Forests" by the United Nations. While there was relatively little progress on intergovernmental forest protection programs during the year, a lot happened elsewhere. Below is a look at some of the biggest tropical forest-related news stories for 2011. We at mongabay readily acknowledge there were a number of important temperate and boreal forest developments, including Britain's decision not to privatize its forests and the severe drought in Texas, but this article will cover only tropical forest news.
Photos: two dozen new beetles discovered in Papua New Guinea hotspot
(11/23/2011) Over the past two decades, at least 24 new beetles species have been discovered in a remote mountainous rainforest region of Papua New Guinea by Swedish entomologists Ulf Nylander. Described in the new book Biodiversity, Biogeography and Nature Conservation in Wallacea and New Guinea, the new beetles found in the Aseki Province are all ecologically linked to rotting wood.
One night only: new orchid species surprises scientists
(11/22/2011) A mysterious new orchid blooms for one night only, opening around 10 PM and closing at 10 AM. Discovered on the island of New Britain near Papua New Guinea, the new species is the world's first orchid that flowers only at night. Scientists found the new flower, named Bulbophyllum nocturnum, in a logging concession on the tropical island.
Beetle bonanza: 84 new species prove richness of Indo-Australian islands
(11/08/2011) Re-examining beetle specimens from 19 museums has led to the discovery of 84 new beetle species in the Macratria genus. The new species span the islands of Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, tripling the number of known Macratria beetles in the region. "Species of the genus Macratria are cosmopolitan, with the highest species diversity in the tropical rainforests. Only 28 species of this genus were previously known from the territory of the Indo-Australian transition," Dr. Dmitry Telnov with the Entomological Society of Latvia, who discovered the new species, told mongabay.com.
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