Balding islands

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The fight to save Vanikoro forests continues

BY GEORGINA KEKEA

UNSUSTAINABLE and illegal logging continues to cause tensions between a logging company and vulnerable landowners in Temotu.

Much of the small island of Vanikoro, Santa Cruz, has been stripped bare of exportable trees by a logging company, owned by Solomon Islanders and Asians.

It was reported that in September 2018, the company successfully pressured the Ministry of Forestry to renew its felling licence.

This means the company now has the right to log the island’s last remaining areas of old growth forest.

The alleged company, Vanikoro Lumber Limited (VLL) licence to fell trees on Vanikoro, expired on July 20, 2018, following a contentious three-year period of unsustainable logging during which various clashes arose with local residents opposed to VLL’s operations.

Reports from the island over the years have shown that VLL’s rapacious logging in the area has brought with it a slew of problems to Vanikoro.

Vanikoro island

This includes increased prevalence of land disputes, complaints about sexual exploitation of local women by loggers, destruction of sacred taboo sites and a long list of lasting environmental impacts.

The environmental damage caused to the island includes the destruction of the island’s once unique ecosystem and the pollution of local water sources, to the point of rendering the once pristine rivers and streams of Vanikoro, unfit for human use.

Despite not possessing a valid logging licence in the period after July 20, 2018, it was alleged that VLL continued to fell and export logs from the island.

These activities are in clear contravention of key provisions of the Forest and Timber Resources Utilisation Act, legislation which is supposed to regulate all logging across the Solomon Islands.

In a further insult to the indigenous landowners of Vanikoro, environmental defender and group spokesman, Eddie Pae, said VLL and its subcontractors are now planning to extend logging operations to the island of Teanu, to the east of Vanikoro.

Teanu has never been logged and was not included in the approved concession area under the original (and unlawfully renewed) logging license granted to VLL.

“Notwithstanding that the island of Teanu contains a number of Tabu sites sacred to the people of Vanikoro, it is also a rare and significant hub of biodiversity,” Pae said.

Independent environmental assessments show that Teanu is home to a number of endangered floral and faunal species, including: a bat, only found on the island called the Vanikoro Flying Fox, the Pacific Kauri Pine, and other vulnerable endemic species including: the Red-bellied fruit dove, Pied goshawk, Vanikoro Monarch, Palm lorikeet, Rusty-winged starling and Polynesian starling.

In a harsh assessment by Mr. Pae, he said, if VLL is allowed to log Teanu, this would constitute a cultural and environmental catastrophe.

Vanikoro-island

Pae also noted that destruction of this habitat would deal a fatal blow to any potential future tourism opportunities on the island and would fly in the face of the Solomon Islands REDD+ Roadmap to name Vanikoro as a pilot site.

Pae and others like him continue to fight for the preservation of Teanu and other areas of Vanikoro which have not yet been logged by VLL.

Pae says that he and his supporters face constant bullying and underhanded tactics at the hands of the logging company, including attempts to circumvent the process of dealing with the recognised landowners of Vanikoro, as required under our legislation.

Pae has recently been served with an application by VLL to the High Court for a restraining order against him and others who have vocalised their opposition to logging in the area.

“The restraining order applied for by VLL states that I should not be allowed to return to my home because I am a threat to logging equipment and personnel in the area.

“Unlike those who log on Vanikoro, I do not engage in illegal activities. I, and others like me, are merely trying to protect our home for the enjoyment of future generations,” Pae said.

Pae will seek legal assistance to contest the restraining order and the renewal of VLL’s felling licence.

In April last year (2017) Pae also spoke to Radio New Zealand about their frustrations over logging in Vanikoro. Logging operations in Vanikoro was said to commence in 2013.

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