Conservationists applaud renewed ban on Madagascar rosewood

The reinstatement of a ban on logging and export of rosewood by Madagascar’s transitional government was welcomed by environmental activists today.

But two environmental watchdog groups, Global Witness and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), warned that “the ban must be strictly enforced and that existing timber awaiting export should be dealt with in an open and transparent way.”

“We are pleased that pressure from conservation groups, donors and non-governmental organizations seems to be having an effect,” said Reiner Tegtmeyer, Forest Campaigner at Global Witness.


“However, this is not the first time that the Malagasy authorities have banned export of precious timber, and we know from experience that official decrees are often not enforced. We are calling on the authorities to keep this decree in place, ensure that it is fully observed, and prevent loopholes or exceptions that enable export of illegal timber,” Tegtmeyer said in a news statement.

When repeated appeals to the government to enforce protection of endangered forests went unheeded, environmentalists called on consumers of rosewood and ebony products to check their origin, and boycott those made of Malagasy wood.


Image of Madagascar courtesy of NASA

Nat Geo News Watch Contributing Editor and Conservation Biologist Stuart Pimm wrote last year about his observations of the diversity in Madagascar and how the pillaging of the country’s natural heritage threatened not only to destroy decades of conservation work, but also ruin the one chance that communities adjacent to national parks have to escape poverty. (The call to boycott Madagascar’s rosewood and ebony explained)

Conservationists first sounded the alarm a year ago that looters were also invading Madagascar’s protected wildlife sanctuaries, harvesting trees and threatening critically endangered lemurs and other species. (Lemurs, Rare Forests Threatened by Madagascar Strife)

Madagascar Government Decree no. 2010-141, announced last week, prohibits all exports of rosewood and precious timber for between two to five years, Global Witness reported.

“It is not clear what will happen to the 10,000-15,000 metric tons of rosewood that has already been illegally felled and is awaiting export,” the UK-based environmental watchdog group said in the news release.

“In November 2009, in a report commissioned by the Madagascar National Parks, Global Witness and EIA documented widespread illegal logging of precious Malagasy timber, including rosewood, worth up to U.S. $460,000 a day. The report warned that this illicit activity was threatening Madagascar’s last remaining forests, and the people and animals that depended upon them,” Global Witness added.

The Global Witness/EIA report included the recommendation that the authorities should seize all precious wood in the country’s ports and auction it under the supervision of an independent auditor and representatives of civil society. All proceeds should be used to support the national parks, improve forest management and control systems, and promote rural development and conservation., the report recommended.

“To end the cycle of illegal harvest and corruption, the government should take the step of destroying all stocks that are not contained in the latest official inventories.”

“To end the cycle of illegal harvest and corruption, the government should take the step of destroying all stocks that are not contained in the latest official inventories,” said Andrea Johnson, Director of Forest Campaigns at EIA, an advocacy group based in London and Washington, D.C. “Traders, who are currently stockpiling illegal timber, hoping for another ‘exceptional’ export authorization, must receive a clear signal that it will be impossible to profit from the illegal trade in the future,” Johnson said.


Illegal rosewood logging in Madagascar

Photo via Stuart Pimm

The Global Witness/EIA report described constant shifts in regulations governing the export of precious woods and exposed contradictions in the legislation regarding forests and logging. These loopholes and general confusion allowed uncontrolled logging and export to take place. The report showed how in a number of cases export bans were relaxed in order to facilitate export.

Ship loaded for rosewood export

Last week, Global Witness and EIA raised the alarm again, revealing that a vessel owned by the French shipping company Delmas was loading rosewood for export in Vohémar port in Madagascar. “The exceptional export permits granted by the Malagasy authorities for the illegal rosewood is in fact a laundering operation by the cash-strapped government,” Tegtmeyer warned.

“Global Witness and EIA are calling on the Malagasy authorities to suspend all extraction and export agreements and authorisations and maintain the export ban on precious woods in all forms until a controlled forest exploitation management system is in place.

“We hope this is the end of the story of uncontrolled exploitation of Madagascar’s forests for quick profit, not the beginning of a new chapter of corruption and environmental devastation,” Johnson added.

logged-rosewood-madagascar-photo-2.jpgIllegal rosewood logging in Madagascar

Photo via Stuart Pimm

Erik Patel is a PhD candidate at Cornell University who has been studying the silky sifaka since 2001 and has published an article about illegal precious wood logging in Madagascar. He is very familiar with the situation.

“I hope we can all seize the day, and use this tentative victory to implement two key missing protective measures: CITES and Independent Forest Monitoring, Patel said in an emailed reaction to the news of the reinstated ban on logging and export of rosewood.. 

“Independent Forest Monitoring (IFM) is increasingly implemented (in collaboration with governments) around the world to develop official, investigative, and transparent forest monitoring,” Patel said. “IFM would not cost Madagascar anything and would provide increased shared data which would help everyone improve management of these World Heritage Sites.”

CITES protection

Protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) would require exporting and importing nations to verify the timber was legally acquired and the logging not detrimental to species survival., Patel continued 

“Like big-leaf mahogany, the premier commercial timber species of Latin America, CITES may be the only way to reduce unsustainable exploitation of precious wood in Madagascar.

“However, also as in the case of big-leaf mahogany, enforcing these international regulations will be difficult and require a new multilateral, cost-effective system to determine if exported wood has met the non-detrimental and legal criteria. 

“Currently Brazilian rosewood Dalbergia nigra, which is not as rare as Madagascar rosewood, is the only type of rosewood in the world that is protected under CITES. 

“The key snag is always that governments must initiate the CITES process themselves. We would like to see international donor community (more than 90 percent of the budget of Madagascar National Parks comes from abroad) exert serious pressure for the CITES listings to be initiated.”

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