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.
Rainforest loss increased in the 2000s, concludes new analysis
(02/25/2015) Loss of tropical forests accelerated roughly 60 percent during the 2000s, argues a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The findings contradict previous research suggesting that deforestation slowed since the 1990s. The study is based on a map of 1990 forest cover developed last year by Do-Hyung Kim and colleagues from the University of Maryland. The map, which includes 34 countries that contain 80 percent of the world's tropical forests, enabled the researchers to establish a consistent baseline for tracking forest cover change across regions and countries over time.
Palm oil interest surges in Papua New Guinea
(11/19/2014) As the lands of traditional palm oil powerhouses like Indonesia and Malaysia have become saturated with plantations, companies looking to profit have turned to vast areas of seemingly untouched tropical forest in other parts of the world – places like Papua New Guinea. But, in fact, say advocates of local communities, those forests often support the lives and livelihoods of millions of people who must have their rights taken into account.
‘Militarized occupation’: local communities pay the price for palm oil
(11/11/2014) There’s little doubt that the use of palm oil is expanding rapidly throughout the world, and with it the need for millions of hectares of land to grow oil palm trees. The results can be devastating for local communities who depend on the agriculture and forests that these lands support. A recent report catalogs the issues that arise with oil palm expansion.
Beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products from 8 countries responsible for 1/3 of forest destruction
(10/23/2014) Four commodities produced in just eight countries are responsible for a third of the world's forest loss, according to a new report. Those familiar with the long-standing effort to stop deforestation won't be surprised by the commodities named: beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products (including timber and paper). Nor will they be very surprised by most of the countries: Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Top scientists raise concerns over commercial logging on Woodlark Island
(10/21/2014) A number of the world's top conservation scientists have raised concerns about plans for commercial logging on Woodlark Island, a hugely biodiverse rainforest island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The scientists, with the Alliance of Leading Environmental Scientists and Thinkers (ALERT), warn that commercial logging on the island could imperil the island's stunning local species and its indigenous people.
Extinction island? Plans to log half an island could endanger over 40 species
(09/22/2014) Woodlark Island is a rare place on the planet today. This small island off the coast Papua New Guinea is still covered in rich tropical forest, an ecosystem shared for thousands of years between tribal peoples and a plethora of species, including at least 42 found no-where else. Yet, like many such wildernesses, Woodlark Island is now facing major changes: not the least of them is a plan to log half of the island.
How do we save the world's vanishing old-growth forests?
(08/26/2014) There's nothing in the world like a primary forest, which has never been industrially logged or cleared by humans. They are often described as cathedral-like, due to pillar-like trees and carpet-like undergrowth. Yet, the world's primary forests—also known as old-growth forests—are falling every year, and policy-makers are not doing enough to stop it.
Scientists ask PNG to support conservation research
(07/24/2014) The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), the world's largest group of tropical researchers, is calling on the government of Papua New Guinea to increase support for biology training programs in the densely-forested and wildlife-rich country.
PhD students 'thrilled' to rediscover mammal missing for 124 years
(06/11/2014) In 1890 Lamberto Loria collected 45 specimens—all female—of a small bat from the wilds of Papua New Guinea. Nearly 25 years later, in 1914, the species was finally described and named by British zoologist Oldfield Thomas, who dubbed it the New Guinea big-eared bat (Pharotis imogene) after its massive ears. But no one ever saw the bat again.
Malaysian palm oil giant loses PNG case, plantations declared illegal
(05/24/2014) Papua New Guinea's National Court has declared two leases held by Malaysia-based Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK) null and void, and ordered the government to cancel the licenses to convert nearly 40,000 hectares of rainforest and community forest for oil palm plantations, reports the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
Loggers plan to clear 20 percent of tropical island paradise
(04/28/2014) Seven years ago, a palm oil company set its eyes on Woodlark Island—a small rainforest island nearly 200 miles off the coast of Papua New Guinea—but was rebuked by the local populace. But locals and conservationists who spoke to mongabay.com at the time felt that wouldn't be the end of it: they were right. Recently, a company, Karridale Limited, has landed machinery on the island.
Illegal logging makes up 70 percent of Papua New Guinea's timber industry
(04/22/2014) Corruption, weak governance, and powerful timber barons are illegally stripping the forests of Papua New Guinea, according to a new report from the Chatham House. The policy institute finds that 70 percent of logging in Papua New Guinea is currently illegal, despite the fact that 99 percent of land is owned by local indigenous communities.
Malaysian palm oil giant tied to social conflict, deforestation, says report
(04/03/2014) Unlike other palm oil giants that have recently made strong commitments to eliminating deforestation and social conflict from their supply chains, Malaysia-based Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK) continues to source palm oil associated with forest destruction and community conflict, argues a new report published by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
New Guinea animals losing vital tree cavities to logging, hunting practices
(12/17/2013) Across New Guinea, deforestation is occurring at increasing levels. Whether it be industrial logging, monoculture plantations, hunters felling trees in pursuit of arboreal wildlife, or other forms of forest conversion, deforestation is depleting not only forest carbon stocks and understory environments, but habitats for species who call tree cavities "home." A new study in mongabay.com's open-access journal, Tropical Conservation Science, evaluated whether a variety of man-made nest boxes could function as suitable substitutes for tree cavities.
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.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.