Bulldozers cut skid tracks from the main roads to haul cut logs from inside the forest. Possibly one of the most negligent practices observed during this survey was the pushing of soil into creeks to allow bulldozers to cross. One example is illustrated in Figure 16.
This skid track traversed the upper reaches of Warro Creek (Block 1, Setup 10) which eventually flows through Amoi village. The Amoi villagers used the creek extensively for drinking, fishing and processing sago but are now unable to do so. The blockage of this creek and several others in the area (including Bufon and Bwai Creeks) occurred more than a month before this study and although the villagers have complained to VFP and the Forest Authority nothing had been done. By pushing soil into and skidding through these creeks VFP has contravened at least four more LCP standards:
Key Standard No. 2f: Minimum buffer zone for a stream of any width used by the community is 50 metres.
Key Standard No. 10: No soil in streams from road construction or skid tracks.
Key Standard No. 17: Do not fell into or skid inside buffer zones or excluded areas.
Key Standard No. 18: Use temporary log bridges to cross flowing water within a set-up: do not cover with soil and remove immediately after use.
It was also observed that skidding of logs was taking place during wet weather in soils that were sensitive to compaction. Figure 17 illustrates a deep trench left by a log skidded during wet conditions.
Although there is not a specific standard to cover operations in wet weather the LCP (Section 7.2) suggests that best management practices should be considered. The serious erosion problems observed during this study reinforce the proposition that VFP has poor management practices.
4.2.2. Logging Practices
Ensuring that only merchantable timber trees are harvested and that buffer zones have been observed are two important components of good logging operations. During this survey undersized trees (marked with an X on a cut end) were regularly found on the verges of forest roads and in log landings. Figure 18 illustrates one such undersize tree which has been pushed back off the road.
This practice also contravenes the LCP:
Agreed criteria: extraction of trees with a diameter at breast height (DBH) of less than 50 cm is prohibited.
10 undersized trees were found on the roadside south of Ilup village. A landowner from the village reported that VFP wanted to use them to repair a bridge and had offered to pay him 20 Kina per tree. Thus, poor logging practices can reward VFP by allowing it to cheaply replace sections of bridges with unmerchantable and under priced logs.
Buffer zones around swamps appeared to be either ignored or unmarked. Near the centre of Figure 19 the stump of a tree felled inside a sago swamp can be seen. The TRP lists sago as excluded produce and the swamps in which this species occurs should have a 100-metre buffer zone from logging activities (LCP Key Standard 2c. Minimum buffer zone for lakes, lagoons, swamps (surface water present for 6 months of the year) is 100 metres.). Logging inside the swamp and damaging one of the major food sources further demonstrates VFPs negligence.
Although this survey did not estimate the number of trees that were uprooted or pushed over during logging extraction (incidental loss) a visual assessment in Block 1, including the area illustrated in Figure 20, suggests that high numbers of trees were damaged.
The LCP does not specify the maximum number of trees that can be removed from an area but a selective logging regime is meant to minimise the area of forest affected by logging.
Several log landings of excessive size, such as the one illustrated in Figure 21, were also identified in Block 1 and significantly contribute to canopy loss. Maximum areas for log landings are defined in the LCP (Key Standard No. 4: No more than 3 log landings per set-up, maximum size 2500 sq. metres each.) and therefore VFP has again ignored best practice forestry techniques for expedient timber extraction.
A further complaint of local villagers was that VFP are allowed to operate too many set-ups at once. In Block 1 there were 6 set-ups operating when only 2 to 3 should be. The operation of too many set-ups generally reduces the ability of the regulator (PNG Forest Authority) to monitor the condition of these set-ups during logging and to carry out effective post-harvest assessments. Indeed, the conditions found during this survey confirm that the Forest Authority has not ensured that VFP conducts logging operations according to the requirements of the LCP.
4.2.3. Environmental and Social Impacts of the Logging Operations
It was evident during this study that the prerequisites for controlled logging were not being met by VFP. The impacts from the logging have been so great that many of the trees in the original forest will not survive more than ten years. Much of this damage stems from the lack of planning and control of forestry operations. In addition, the canopy has been opened up to such an extent that very few of the more valuable timber species are likely to regenerate. In general, it is recommended that canopy gaps no larger than 300 m2 be created in selective logging. The larger gaps created in many areas of the Vanimo Timber Area allow pioneer species, such as Macaranga sp., Omolanthus sp. and Anthocephalus chinanese, to become established because of the significant changes in micro-climatic conditions. In many areas with an open canopy and significant soil disturbance the vine Merremia peltata can be seen smothering the soil and remnant vegetation. Thus, selective logging as practised by VFP has caused serious degradation of the forest and retarded the regenerative capacity of the forests in the Vanimo Timber Area.
While selective logging directly harms some wildlife, others are endangered by the hunting that follows. Particularly, populations of the larger birds such as cassowaries (Casuarius spp.) and hornbills (Aceros spp.) are reduced with the increased use of logging roads and shotguns (Lamb 1990). Cassowaries (Casuarius spp.) are also known to be a keystone species in Papua New Guinea rainforests as they ingest and disperse a large number fruits (Lamothe et al. 1990). Passage through the gut of the cassowary removes fruit flesh and enhances the germination of seeds, while faecal deposits confer considerable ecological benefits by promoting seedling recruitment (Noble 1991). The germination of several PNG timber species are enhanced by cassowaries (Lamothe et al. 1990) and therefore the loss of cassowaries through higher levels of hunting will ultimately harm the long-term sustainability of the Vanimo Timber Area.
Canopy and understorey birds are also known to decrease in numbers within a disturbed habitat (Driscoll 1985). Indeed, many women from the villages in the Vanimo Timber Area claimed that the loss of wild fowl nesting areas (around the base larger trees) significantly decreased the number of birds and eggs that they can find in the forest. The amount of time and distance these women need to travel to collect sufficient protein sources from the forest has increased with the loss of the wild fowl habitat. Their children, who generally accompany them, are therefore also exposed to more mosquitoes in the forest and several women claimed that their children have malaria more often. The loss of sago palms through negligent logging practices also represents a major nutritional loss to the landowners. The activities of VFP, particularly the construction of skid tracks through community streams, have increased soil erosion and stream turbidity, which has decreased fish and crayfish recruitment. Furthermore, the loss of clean drinking water is probably responsible for an increase in dysentery and giardia seen in many villages. Nurses and clinical officers at both the Vanimo Hospital and the Bewani Health Clinic also suggest that more pregnant woman are malnourished and that low birth weight babies (<2.0kg) are becoming more common. Ultimately, the loss of food sources and clean drinking water means that the health of many of the villagers is now worse than before logging operations commenced.