ACTION ALERT UPDATE! *********************************************** FOREST CONSERVATION NEWS TODAY Conservationists at Loggerheads over World Bank Logging Subsidies
World Bank to Resume Financing of Rainforest Destruction. Updated: Bank approval of their flawed proposal has been delayed
OVERVIEW & COMMENTARY by Forests.org
It appears that eco-centric forest conservationists have slowed and may still defeat plans by the World Bank to subsidize commercial logging of the World's remaining large, primary rainforests. Despite a recent announcement that approval of the dismal policy change in was imminent (http://forests.org/recent/2002/dodesold.htm), the Bank's "Forest Policy Implementation Review and Strategy" web site at http://wbln0018.worldbank.org/ESSD/FORESTPOL-E.NSF/MAINVIEW still states they are "in the process of finalizing the review of its forest sector strategy" and that they will provide "general response to the major issues raised in comments we received on this website, within two weeks." Clearly the several hundred thousand comments we continue to generate to the World Bank Board and President at http://forests.org/emailaction/bank.htm are having an impact. In addition, Forests.org has been interviewed by numerous media organizations including the BBC, BioMedNet (below) and others. The profile of our campaign to protect the World's remaining large primary forests from commercial development is growing. Thank you for you collaboration on this and other important matters. g.b.
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Conservationists and logging advocates are embroiled in a bitter controversy that could help determine the fate of the world's remaining tropical rainforests. Ironically, both sides argue that they have the best interests of forests at heart.
Each year, about 15 million acres of tropical forest are logged, most of it virgin forest. Proponents of logging argue that selective timber-cutting (removing a small percentage of all trees with bulldozers and other heavy equipment) is the only economically realistic way that developing nations can justify retaining large areas of managed forest, rather than destroying it outright for agriculture. Many conservationists, however, argue that logging severely degrades forests and - even worse - that the loggers increase forest destruction by creating labyrinths of roads which give slash-and-burn farmers, hunters, and ranchers easy access to frontier areas.
At the heart of the controversy is the World Bank's proposal to resume financial support for rainforest logging, in conjunction with other rural-development and conservation programs. Following intense criticism from environmental groups, the Bank halted funding for logging of primary forests in the early 1990s. But it now appears likely that the Bank will renew its support for timber-cutting under new, more restrictive guidelines.
Conservationists fear the proposed policy will do more harm than good. Glen Barry, a conservation biologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said that he "strongly condemns" the World Bank's plan and that, over the past decade, the Bank had "failed miserably to reform commercial logging in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Cameroon, and elsewhere."
"The Bank likes to talk about 'sustainable forest management' as a euphemism for logging," he argued, "but all they truly care about sustaining is foreign exchange revenues and timber yields - not complex rainforest ecosystems." Barry cited a number of problems with the World Bank plan, including a need to protect old-growth and ecologically important forests from logging, and to safeguard forests from being converted to exotic timber and oil-palm plantations.
The Rainforest Action Network, a San Francisco-based environmental group, contends that some World Bank activities - such as structural adjustment loans to developing nations that may fund logging operations - would fall outside the new forest policy, and can be very damaging ecologically. Last month, when two members of the group dangled a banner reading "World Bank: Don't Destroy Old Growth" inside a Washington DC building where World Bank President James Wolfensohn was holding a press conference, activist Jaya Remis complained that the Bank's proposed policy would "strip protection for the world's remaining forests."
However, Francis Putz, an ecologist at the University of Florida and a leading advocate of sustainable logging, reacted very differently to the World Bank plan, saying he was "genuinely impressed" with the new proposal. "While I always have some reservations about big donors and big projects, I am pleased that the World Bank is going to support efforts to make forest management compatible with conservation and rural development," he said. He also asserted that the Bank's plan is "loaded with safeguards" and will not fund logging without first establishing strong ties to local communities, environmental groups, and other stakeholders.
A former environmental advisor to the World Bank, Thomas Lovejoy, echoes these views. "I agree that the World Bank's activities need to be closely monitored," said Lovejoy, who is President of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. "Logging is a complex issue, but if we can't make tropical forests benefit local people and be commercially valuable, then many could just end up cleared and burned."
Lovejoy also feels that the World Bank is striving to learn from its past mistakes and to develop good plans to promote sustainable logging. The current approach, he said, is to advance with caution and to recognize that "the devil is in the details."
While conservationists and logging advocates debate the wisdom of the new World Bank plan, they agree about one thing: The success or failure of tropical logging as a sustainable-development activity could have an enormous impact on rainforest ecosystems worldwide. According to Putz, one's position in the debate may ultimately "come down to whether or not you trust the World Bank, for which strong arguments can be made on either side."
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