‘Robbed of our tubi’

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Isabel landowners accuse loggers of illegally felling their valued trees

RESOURCE owners of San Jorge island on Isabel Province are handicapped as their fight to stop the harvesting of the endemic tubi tree on the island continues unabated.
Wilson Tohidi, a representative of the San Jorge resource owners, said Sunrise Investment Limited is currently harvesting the prohibited tree species on the island.
“Despite our attempts to stop the harvesting and stockpiling of the tree at Korona land on San Jorge island, harvesting still continues,” Tohidi told the Island Sun this week.
He said 6,673 tubi logs have already been harvested on San Jorge Island in the last four months, weighing up to 8065.927 cubic metres.
“About 1,000 cubic metres of tubi trees were legally cut down for road alignment or accessibility.
“By end of this month, I’m estimating between 10,000 to 12,000 cubic metres of tubi to be harvested and scaled.”
He said an estimated 1,500 cubic metres of tubi are also stockpiled at Lelegia on mainland Isabel, which belongs to the same landowning tribe.
“But felling of tubi in Lelegia has stopped,” he said.
He said Mas Solo Investment Limited is currently licensed to fell logs around Lelegia area but is engaging in construction of road project in the southern tip of Isabel Province.
The tubi stockpile at Lelegia are mostly gathered from fallen tubi trees according to the local landowning tribe.
At least two landowning parties are claiming ownership of the stockpile of tubi trees at Lelegia, including Tohidi and his group.
Tohidi said the illegality of the harvest of the tubi is what his group is concerned with, as Sunrise Investment Limited only has licence to fell commercial tree species on San Jorge Island.
“As such we call on the responsible authorities to cancel this company’s licence and be accountable for breaching the condition of their felling licence.”
He added if the responsible authorities in the government allows Sunrise Investment Limited to harvest and export this prohibited tree species, then it undermines the status of these responsible stakeholders.
“Because they will be seen as breaking the law of the land,” Tohidi said.
He said the landowners of San Jorge and Lelegia logging tenement areas commended the Isabel Provincial Government on its strong stand against issuing tubi licence for harvesting and exporting of tubi logs.
One such applicant was Korona Land Trust Board (KLTB).
“That the company and the group has provided false information at the first place when the (Isabel) Provincial Government enquire about the Tubi Harvesting within those areas (Korona and Lelegia,” John Mark Lokumana, Isabel Provincial Secretary stated in a letter to Chairman of KLTB, Edwin Rogemana, who earlier applied for tubi licence.
There were seven other reasons that Mr Lokumana stated in his letter dated June 19, 2020, in rejecting Mr Rogemana’s application to harvest and export tubi.
There is currently no known licence holder to harvest and export tubi and Sunrise Investment Limited only has a normal felling licence for commercial trees – not for tubi harvest and export.
Island Sun was informed that Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Forest and Research Dr Vaeno Vigulu visited Isabel Province two months ago and saw firsthand there were no commercial trees available on San Jorge island left to log, except for tubi.
“And this is the exact excuse Sunrise uses for landing on San Jorge and fight to legalise its operations on the island,” our informer said.
Our source said Mr Vigulu’s visit to Isabel Province was to step up monitoring and compliance under the Covid-19 awareness programme.
“It was also to ensure the true value for logs exports are reflected in the revenue collected and hear for himself the challenges and issues facing resources owners, the Isabel Provincial Government and the logging operators during the current Covid-19 pandemic,” the informer who requested anonymity said.
Tohidi said Sunrise Investment Limited licence to harvest commercial trees on San Jorge island is valid for five years after it was granted in 2018.
“However, Sunrise has switched from harvesting commercial tree species to the prohibited tubi species on San Jorge as of this year,” he added.
He said the fight to stop the illegal harvesting of tubi tree on San Jorge comes at a cost therefore, he demands those responsible to recognise their plea.
“At the end of the day, we want to maximise the benefits of our own resources especially from this prohibited and endemic tree species called tubi.
“Our people only get peanuts whilst someone, somewhere is getting millions from the resources they do not even own,” Tohidi said.
PS Lokumana in a letter to a law firm representing Tohidi’s group said felling of tubi by Sunrise and Mas Solo had been done when they landed and started operation before they applied for Business License to IPG to do such illegal harvesting and exporting of tubi.
“The Isabel Provincial Government had rejected their applications to harvest and export tubi,” he added.
When Island Sun contacted the Chairman of KLTB Mr Rogemana for comments yesterday, he referred us to speak to their lawyer James Apaniai.
When contacted, Mr Apaniai said he cannot comment because the matter is before the court.
Mr Apaniai’s client, Sunrise Investment Limited, continues to extract tubi on San Jorge island when IPG did not even issue them a business licence.
Island Sun understands there is a case before the high court on this matter between the resource owners and the logging company on the issue of tubi harvest on San Jorge as well as those stockpiled on Lelegia.
Tubi or Xanthostemon melanoxylon (Myrtaceae) is a new species from the Solomon Islands, according to a 2007 published paper by Peter Wilson and Fred Pitisopa.
“The genus Xanthostemon comprises approximately 47 species that are distributed from Australia and New Caledonia through to Sulawesi and the Philippines.”
Wilson and Pitisopa said the Solomon Islands species is extremely hard, durable and very dark, and has been compared with ebony.
They said this endemic species has a limited distribution and is, therefore, rare and found only on San Jorge island, southern part of mainland Isabel Province and south-eastern part of Choiseul.
Tubi logs fetch millions of dollars in overseas markets.