Iconic timber species overharvested, near commercial extinction

- Bulkan

Guyana’s greenheart, purpleheart and more recently, wamara and itikiboroballi species are overharvested and are extinct or approaching commercial extinction in accessible forests, according to forestry expert Janette Bulkan, despite denials by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC).

“The ratio of their log volumes to total log volumes far exceeds the ratio of the volumes of the standing trees in the forest to total forest volume,” Bulkan wrote in a recent letter to Stabroek News. Bulkan said that it has been evident for years that the GFC’s casual approach to the required conservation of individual species among Guyana’s 1000+ tree species has been allowing “massive over-harvesting” of the commercially-preferred timbers.

She pointed to log export data which showed that there is a tremendous concentration for the export market on a very limited number of tree species.

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The forestry expert noted that for the years 2012-2014, the GFC’s Forest Sector Information Report (FSIR) confirms this concentration. In 2012, the top three species for log production were greenheart, wamara and purpleheart and the top ten species accounted for 76 per cent of total log production, she pointed out.

The GFC has acknowledged that only a limited number of species are being harvested by the entire forest sector concessionaires. “But in the same breath, it must be mentioned that the current logging intensity of Guyana is only about 30 % of the Annual Allowable Harvest- as such there is no current threat of over-harvesting to any commercial species,” the agency said in a response to another letter by Bulkan.

Citing figures, Bulkan had pointed out that in 2013, the top class 1 timber was wamara, with no information about greenheart or purpleheart. In the last published FSIR, for January-June 2014, wamara and greenheart were the top two timbers and purpleheart was fifth in log production.

Bulkan said that the figures show two marked trends: firstly, the trend of forest degradation is evident in the rise and fall in exports of commercially desirable timbers.

Secondly, the greenheart, purpleheart, wamara and itikiboroballi species together comprised more than 50 per cent of total log exports in all but one year (2004), and more than two-thirds of all log exports between 2007 and 2010, she said.

“The remarkably large difference between the declared FOB prices for logs exported from Guyana compared with the declared CIF prices for the same or similar timbers landed in China and India is conventionally a signal of transfer pricing. This practice involves incorrect Customs declarations. In addition, taxes for our excellent timbers are notably much less than for equivalent timbers in Malaysia,” she said.

Harvesting is excessive and unsustainable, pricing is wrong and taxes are too low, Bulkan declared.

She said that corroboration about Customs fraud is in the report on ‘Illicit financial flows from developing countries: 2003-2012,’ from the Washington-based Global Financial Integrity. These flows are estimated for Guyana at US$84 million in 2003, rising almost continuously to US$440 million in 2012, she noted, while adding that around half of the illicit flows (US$ 1464 million for 2003-2012) are attributed to export under-invoicing.

The GFC has said that it is finalising work on implementing a ‘harvesting by species quota,’ based on the inventory data. “Pilot inventories in concessions are enumerating trees using the GPS, and accurate geo-referenced species stock maps are being generated. This will allow for the phased introduction of a harvesting regime that is based on species quota,” the agency said.

Bulkan, in response, said a simple comparison between the proportions of volumes of preferred commercial timbers harvested and exported to total all-species volumes harvested and exported and the proportions of volumes of preferred commercial timbers standing in the forest to the volumes of all timbers standing in the forest shows that there remains a huge bias in favour of stripping out the preferred timbers.

“These slow-growing species do not grow fast enough in natural regeneration to replace the current rates of extracted volumes. The GFC conducts no post-harvest silviculture to increase the growth rates of the next cohort of crop trees of these species, and there is no research anyway which suggests that silvicultural treatment would be effective at financially reasonable cost. Nor does the GFC practise restoration by planting these preferred timbers. Currently, therefore, the GFC’s own data indicate that the preferred species are heading towards commercial extinction through massive over-harvesting. Even the GFC should be able to appreciate that this is not sustainable forest management as understood in any text book,” she declared.

Chinese and Indian companies export a significant amount of logs and, according to Bulkan, “the Asian log exporters will continue to cream Guyana’s fragile forests of commercially desirable species until the last tree is harvested.”

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