Rampant Rosewood Logging
Of the many threats encountered by the world's islands, commercial logging is one of the most severe, rapidly decimating forests and the many species they harbor. While the clear-cutting style of logging (in which all trees in an area are uniformly cut down) may be the most infamous, even selective logging (or removing only certain species) can be a death knell in some regions. One of these is the island of Madagascar, where logging of rosewood trees has become a national crisis.
Seacology's Madagascar Field Representative Erik Patel is an expert in Madagascar ecology and recently published an article about the problems of rosewood logging. A popular material for guitars and high-end furniture, rosewood is in great demand around the world. Erik notes that while some Malagasy rosewood is obtained legally and ethically, the vast majority is not. Although their numbers are quickly dropping, the species have yet to be given international protection under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), making it difficult to enforce rosewood conservation.
Logging of rosewood brings disastrous effects to many aspects of Madagascar's environment and culture. Unfortunately, while rosewood products can sell for high costs, this income remains largely in the hands of a "rosewood mafia." Moreover, since most of the rosewood logging is illegal, the government does not derive any income from taxing the export. In the forests, the harvesting of one rosewood tree often requires the felling of several other trees. Other trees are sometimes hit when a rosewood trunk falls, and often lighter trees are cut and used as a raft to transport the rosewood down a river or as skids through the forest. Many forest species rely on these trees for habitat--among them, Madagascar's famous endemic lemurs (seen in the photo below).
The prevalence of rosewood logging has affected the Malagasy people, some of whom abandon their subsistence agriculture for the short-term income derived from rosewood logging, leading to food shortages and nutritional deficiencies. At the same time, crime, gambling, and prostitution have increased in some rural communities. And sometimes the logging offends the traditional beliefs of the indigenous people, who consider some tree species highly sacred.
In his article, Erik cites several long-term solutions to address the issue of rosewood logging, including greater international recognition for the crisis and the endangered status of rosewood. Seacology is also working to protect these disappearing forests. Our 2010 Seacology Prize Recipient, Rabary Desiré, is an inspiring grassroots conservationist who saved money to purchase land for a private forest reserve that protects rosewood trees, lemurs, and other Malagasy species. Seacology's project in Antanandava Village supports the conservation of 988 acres of Madagascar's forests in exchange for the construction of two primary school classrooms. With a combination of grassroots conservation and international awareness, perhaps we can stem the tide of rosewood logging before it is too late.