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Forests of Papua New Guinea

Effects of deforestation

There are several direct and indirect effects of the loss of rainforest in PNG.

With the loss of rainforest there is a loss of habitat for wildlife. A huge variety of animals, birds and insects live in the rainforests. There are more parrot, pigeon and kingfisher species than anywhere else in the world, and the rainforests are home to animals such as the sugar glider and the Matscie's tree kangaroo, as well as different species of echidna.

Despite little study having been completed on this subject in PNG, studies in other areas would suggest the problem is serious. Current statistics show that as many as 100 species become extinct every day worldwide, with a large portion being attributed to deforestation (Delfgaauw, 1996). Any loss of animal life also leads to local loss of food source for native people.

One example of the effects of logging is the area around Mt. Bosavi. This area has virgin rainforest and the most beautiful waterfall in the country, which could all be destroyed because this area is under threat from logging.

In a rainforest nearly all the nutrients are found in plants and trees, and if you remove the plant life then the ground loses nutrients. After destroying the trees, farmers usually burn the remaining stumps to release the nutrients into the soil. However, without trees, the rain soon washes away the nutrients leaving the ground hostile to new plant life – it can only take three years for the earth to stop being able to support any life at all.

In 1997 a drought in PNG led to hundreds of deaths and health problems for the surviving New Guineans. Research shows that continued depletion of forests does lead to major climate change.

When trees grow, they take in carbon dioxide to grow and survive. This decreases the greenhouse effect. But when trees are burned or rot after being cut down, they release carbon dioxide. Trees provide a great deal of moisture that affects the formation of clouds. Ground temperature and the amount of sun-heat reflection vary with the amount and type of vegetation, which affects atmospheric convection currents. Removal of trees and the ensuing effect leads the climate to become increasingly dry – this is called desertification. This arid land is no longer suitable for plant life, so tree replenishment is difficult.

Water, the essence of life, becomes polluted through spills from the increased numbers of ships for the timber industry, and wood preservatives leaking into rivers and streams. People become ill from ingesting the water and organisms die, thus affecting the fragile food chain. The roots of trees hold the earth in place and removing them leads to soil erosion.

Papua New Guinea is a country of diverse tribes with their own cultural practices and beliefs. There are over 700 different spoken languages, and song and dance is a popular form of education. The Wigmen are a major symbol of the Hali culture in PNG. Their dances, known as sing-sings, are performed wearing wigs made of real hair and decorations of feathers, grass and flowers. Different communities of PNG will take a variety of symbols as important to their culture, ranging from crocodiles (for those settled in areas exposed to attack) to the weather (for cultures centred around farming). Modern technology did not really impact PNG until the 20th century, so many beliefs are still based on spirituality and traditional ways of living from the land, for example weaving without modern looms.

Increasing Westernisation of this diverse culture through logging is one of the indirect effects of forest destruction. Tribes are coming into more and more contact with Western cultures and beliefs, contributing to the disappearance of ancient practices.

The population of PNG is increasing through movement to popular logging areas for economic reasons, the effect being increased through the wantok system. The word wantok means friend, and this friendship-based system involves more affluent family members looking after those with less money. This causes poorer family members to flock to rich forestry areas. In more populated areas, the government tends to increase taxes on essentials, such as food and water, so that in the higher population areas resources are stretched. With the increase of people and the influences of Western culture tends to come the increase in crime, and violence where people are competing for limited land and resources.

As well as providing food, medicine and fuel, trees are shelter and protection for both people and animals. In many cultures, trees are the spiritual centre and the life force of the world.

Papua New Guinean Government policy is that logging companies must employ local people before recruiting non-natives. In practice this does not usually happen and jobs often go to skilled immigrants rather than locals.

Local people receive some money from the logging industry. However, the forestry is not sustainable; once an area is logged, the forest does not grow back quickly. Soil erosion degrades the land and it becomes useless for farming within a couple of years. Native land owners selling land to the logging industry may not fully understand the environmental implications.

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