BY KEITH JACKSON
DR IAN CURTIS was engaged by the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights in Papua New Guinea to assess the economic loss to the landholders of a large scale unauthorised logging operation in the Middle Fly region of the Western Province.
Unauthorised logging had been carried out between 1994 and 2004 by contractors of a road to connect Aiambak and Kiunga. In order to pay for the road, the environmental plan provided for selective logging up to one kilometre either side of the road.
Dr Curtis estimated that the loss or modification of the ecosystem services provided by the forest was about K56 million a year, or a value of about K500 million. The matter is currently before the National Court for a ruling to determine the compensation due to the customary landowners.
The contractor companies constructed a very inferior road, which is unusable and the source of many ongoing environmental problems. After ten years of construction and logging, the road did not even reach Kiunga.
During the process, the contractor principal companies extracted a large timber resource, pushing roads and logging tracks into the pristine lowland forest for up to 20kms off the main track.
It seems that no attempt was made to comply with the PNG Code of Practice for logging roads, and no attempt was made to comply with PNG environmental practice. As a result the customary landowners have been left with severe environmental problems and an unusable road.
The customary landholders lead a subsistence lifestyle, and this invasion and destruction of their resources has had a far greater impact on them than for more developed societies.
Dr Curtis calculates that the logging companies extracted or destroyed K157 million of trees, but did many hundreds of million kina worth of damage in so doing.
He concludes that either timber is overvalued as a resource with respect to the life-supporting benefits obtained from a natural system left intact, or ecosystem services, as a whole, are severely undervalued