Papua New Guinea Lowland Tropical Rainforest, One Landscape, Different Perspectives

Papua New Guinea Lowland Tropical Rainforest, One Landscape, Different Perspectives

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For thousands of years, Papua New Guinea’s affluent terrestrial vegetations have provided the habitat and the patronage elements that were essential for the survival of the Papuan people (Map I) (, 2012) (Nicholls, 2004). The diversity of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) terrestrial vegetation are portrayed in beach grasses, located along coastal lines, moving inland towards lowland tropical rainforest (LTF), and ending with mountaintops’ alpine forests (Table I) (Nicholls, 2004). PNG’s lowland tropical rainforest dominates large portions of the country’s landscape, and it is considered to be the richest region in biodiversity, timber, and minerals (Swartzendruber, 1993). This latter notion has resulted in a profound-reciprocal-bond that continues to exist between the Papuan people and their surrounding environment in general, and specifically biologically rich lowland forest formations. This Papuan rainforest is divergent in appearance, and it extends from areas below 500-1000 meters to reach 3000 m. above see level, where it receives rainfalls that range between 2500 and 3500 mm per annum (Schaffer, 2012). Additionally, the forest’s canopy trees tend to have straight trunks, and extend over large areas, with heights ranging between 50 and 25 m (Schaffer, 2012). At lower altitudes, thin topsoil formations are abundant, which favor buttress root trees to evolve and dictate the forests’ ecosystem (Schaffer, 2012).
The vast majority of the Papuan people (87 % of the population) reside in rural areas where they rely upon the LTF for agriculture, hunting, and gathering as means for survival (Nicholls, 2004). Needless to say, the occurrence of feasibly-abundant forest resources have extend the benefits and values of Papua’s LTR far beyond their sustenance role to the indigenous population, to include benefits that are financial, social, and environmental in nature. Sequentially, the compound benefits and uses provided by PNG’s LTR have caught the attention of different groups of stakeholders, each of which represents a unique-well-sounded management perspective that well define their own interest in the forest. With that in mind, three major stakeholder groups are believed to be involved in managing PNG’s LTR – foreign investors, local government, and environmentalist groups. The existing ties between these different groups’ involvements and the forest’s benefits in turn create land use tradeoffs that produce contentions among those groups involved. The variation in perspectives among those multiple stakeholder groups brings forward the need to objectively evaluate PNG LTR’s benefits and values from the viewpoint of each group. Simultaneously, addressing the differences in perspectives on ways of managing this forest landscape shall in turn paint a clear picture that better describes the sustainable future of PNG’s LTR.

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The main sources of financial benefits generated by PNG’s LTR are drawn from activities tied to forestry, mining, and agriculture, all of which are heavily influenced by the managerial practices of foreign investors and the local government. PNG is one the world’s least developed nations; thus, the local government is faced with enormous challenges such as poverty, high spread of major infections diseases, and lack of infrastructures (The Central Intelligence Agency, 2012). Due to these poor financial conditions, the Papuan government views the country’s environment as a source of wealth (Swartzendruber, 1993). As a result, the government developed a policy that profoundly encourages foreign investments to take place in its landscape. The government in turn strategically aims to use these obtainable investments as sources of income that could finance the country’s budget and increase its GDP.
Forestry in forms of timber logging is considered to be one of the biggest and foremost sources of income to PNG’s economy, as it is a chief source of foreign exports (The Central Intelligence Agency, 2012). Forest formations occupy 36 million hectares of PNG’s total area, with 15 million hectares suitable for commercial logging, of which, between 6 and 8 million hectares are considered logging-anticipated areas under current regulations (Nicholls, 2004). The total financial value of logging was increased from $11.80 million in 1978 to $695.40 million in 1999, providing 19.80% of the domestic exports value (C. Filer, 1997). As a result, the Papuan government allows foreign investors to carry on major excavation and timber logging operations within its lowland forest’s landscape. The process of logging starts out with a permission granted to investor by the local government. Subsequently, a contract between local owners of the named area and the investor takes place, whereby the local owner grants the rights of excavation to the investor in exchange for an agreed upon financial compensations (C. Filer et al., 2009).
Meanwhile, PNG is very rich in mineral depositions, which include copper, gold, silver, natural gas and petroleum (The Central Intelligence Agency, 2012). Mining activities, in forms of natural resources extractions, takes place entirely in PNG’s LTR, and it account for two third of the county’s exports earnings, and 27% of its GDP (Nicholls, 2004). Notably, a liquefied natural gas facility is expected to launch production in 2014, with projected revenues that are anticipated to double the country’s GDP and triple its exports earnings (The Central Intelligence Agency, 2012). Furthermore, agriculture is considered to be PNG’s main labor activity and its life supply. Agriculture activities take place exclusively in the lowland forest, and they are mainly practiced in forms of low intensity agriculture, which accounts for 31% of PNG’s GDP, and it provides 85% of its population with subsistence income (C. Filer, Keenan, Allen, & Mcalpine, 2009). Nonetheless, recent expansions in the scale of commercial agriculture operations that are supported by the local government are constructing an alarming threat to the forest. Namely, commercial agriculture thrives on clearing forested land, a practice that adversely affects the forest habitat in general, and construct a threat to its species.
The Papuan government stance has been reputably focusing on short-term financially based investments that exhaust the forest’s timber and mineral resources. Correspondingly, the foreign companies’ stances in managing the forest’s timber, mineral, and agricultural resources are tremendously geared towards short-term financial gains that come on the expanse of the sustainability of the forest as an ecosystem. The main intent of these foreign companies is to attain maximum financial gains, which are mainly achieved by taking advantage of the abundance of the forest’s resources and comparatively very low workers’ wages. Logging activities are almost exclusively granted to Malaysian companies, whereas mining companies varies in origin, with the United States being one of the major investors in the mining sector (Nicholls, 2004; The Central Intelligence Agency, 2012). Markedly, foreign investors employ local workers to carry out most excavation activities; however, the end product whether it is timber of minerals get transported to foreign markets (C. Filer et al., 2009). Accordingly, investors view their activities as sources of mutual short-term prosperous investments to their shareholders as well as the local population; whereas, the local government views the landscape as a national asset, which could be used as a financial source of prosperity to the Papuan people
The environmental benefits of PNG’s LTR come primarily from the forest’s ecological values. These values are mainly attributed to the forest’s richness in biodiversity and the imperative role of ecological interactions that take place between different species. As a result, PNG’s LTR are closely monitored, and at times managed, by multiple environmentalist groups. Due to the existence of multiple ecosystems, PNG is ranked among the top 20 most bio-diverse countries in the world, with 5-7% of the world’s total number of species, the majority of which exists in the lowland forest region (Shearman et al., 2002). The biodiversity ranges from endemic species of plants, birds and mammals to include different native species of reptiles (Table II). The importance beyond biodiversity is highlighted in the ecological interaction between this large numbers of species. The ecological interaction between species and their surrounding in turn provides vital benefits to the ecosystem as whole. For instance, species and tree die and then decompose, enriching the forests’ soils with multiple number of nutrition that are essential to the overall growth and sustainability of the forests. In addition, key components of the forest’s ecosystem, namely wetlands, can have a profound impact of the ecosystems’ groundwater supplies, as they help to provide humans along with members of the fauna and flora with purified sources of water. Moreover, biodiversity provides scientific and educational benefits that are considered to be explanatory instruments that aids in the enhancements of technological and developmental aspects of the human civilization.

Environmentalists are profoundly concerned with the implications of logging, mining and agriculture as they consider them stressing factors to the Papuan lowland forest ecosystem. Accordingly, the environmentalist groups’ stance is based upon a multidisciplinary scientific explicit theory of system, which takes into account the environment’s nested causality feedback mechanism, and the implications of these mechanisms on the ecosystem. In 2001, the total forestland cleared for logging was estimated to be 362,400 hectares, with continues clearing rate of 2.6% annually. Environmentalists are concerned with this latter notion as it predicts that 83% of commercially permitted logging areas will have been used by the year 2021 (Currie, 2002). Moreover, as a result of logging, it was estimated that 10% of PNG’s landscape has already been already deforested (Nicholls, 2004). As for mining, environmentalists are concerned about the impacts of mining depositions on water and sea pollution (Shearman et al., 2002). Succinctly, environmentalists are concerned with these activities as they degrade the landscape and negatively impact PNG’s biodiversity; thus, threatening endangered species with extinction, and putting those without a risk at higher risk of endangerment and/or extinction. Therefore, different environmental conservation groups are calling for an immediate halt to some of the activities that are harming the forest’s landscape, and the construction of conservation areas to help protect the forest landscape. Additionally, this group is geared towards environmentally sustainable long-term managerial activities, all of which are considered to be beneficent to the landscape’s future, hence the country’s welfare.
The social benefits of PNG’s LTR are manifested in the Papuan culture, as it provides the living habitat for the indigenous human populations. The vast majority of the Papuan population resides in rural areas, where they have developed spiritual and emotional attachments with their surroundings (Nicholls, 2004). The Papuan culture is predominantly tribal in nature, as members of the tribe are identified and viewed as guardians of their own local natural environments (Currie, 2002). As result, 97% of PNG’s land is under customary land tenure by local populations (West, 2006). Elements of pantheistic beliefs are exhibited in many traditional religious practices among local populations (Currie, 2002). More importantly, PNG’s LTR provides locals as well as visitors with preeminent aesthetic values that are too profound to be financially quantified.
Interactions and ties between the three stakeholder groups are inevitable. For example, the city of Vanimo is one of the most populated areas in PNG, where large logging activities take place (Nicholls, 2004). The city is faced with contentions on daily bases. Logging operations are taking place unsustainably by foreign investors, with the backing of government officials. This latter notion creates major contentions between those foreign investors and the local populations, who view these operations as destruction to their habitat (West, 2006). At the same time reports show the financial gains that results from these logging operations are not consistent with the international market prices (Filer, 1997). On the other hand, environmentalist groups oppose these logging operations as they are taking place at high rates, threatening the city’s habitat with destruction (Swartzdrunber, 1993).
In conclusion, PNG is an endowed country with one of the world’s most diverse natural landscapes. This landscape entails adjacent natural forest as well as non-forest formations that provide PNG with major values and benefits. Unambiguously, PMG’s LTR yields bountiful sources of financial, environmental, and social benefits and values. These major benefits in turn attract a distinctive group of stakeholders; namely, foreign investors, local government, and environmentalists, each of which view the landscape’s values from utterly different standpoint. The difference in perspectives among these heterogeneous stakeholders brings forwards the urgent need for these groups to adopt a more collaboratively rooted managerial effort. This in turn will result in well-voiced dialogues to take place between theses different stakeholder groups. Ultimately, these dialogues will facilitate to moderate the gap between these groups as they all move forward towards a prosperous-developed-sustainable the lowland tropical rainforest in Papua New Guinea.

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