On 30 November 2009, a detailed report on the state of conservation of the Rainforests of Atsinanana World Heritage property was submitted by the State Party. This urgent report was requested by the World Heritage Committee as a result of reports on an important increase of illegal logging in two components of the property, Masoala and Marojejy National parks. The report provides an overview of ongoing management operations across the serial property and of the implementation of the State Party’s Action Plan to halt illegal logging of precious woods in Masoala and Marojejy National Parks, which was reported to the Committee at its 33rd session.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also received a copy of the “Investigation into the illegal exploitation, transport and export of precious timber in the Sava region in Madagascar” of August 2009, by Global Witness and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). This report was commissioned by the Ministry of Forest and Madagascar National Parks. A World Heritage Centre mission visited Madagascar in April 2010 in the framework of the Centre’s project activities and was also able to meet various stakeholders.
The State Party report indicates that illegal logging of precious woods in Masoala was still ongoing at the time of the preparation of their report, but states that logging in Marojejy had ceased. Logging activities are primarily targeting the three rosewood species (Dalbergia) occurring in the country, as well as to a lesser extent ebony (Diospyros). Rosewood or Dalbergia spp. are only present in Madagascar, India, Brazil and Central Africa and the species found in Madagascar are endemic to the island.
Most Rosewood is found in the north-east of the country, and in particular in the Masoala and Marojejy National Park, and in Mananara National Park, a biosphere reserve (not included in the property). The other four central/ southern National Parks (Andohahela, Andringitra, Ranomafana, and Zahamena) comprising the serial property seem relatively unaffected by the illegal logging crisis. The State Party specifically reports on the status of illegal logging in Masoala and Marojejy National Parks.
Masoala: The State Party notes that a large portion of the northern, western and southern areas of Masoala National Park was affected by illegal logging. At the time of the report, illegal loggers were present within the park and illegal logging of precious wood was persisting. The State Party further indicates that Masoala National Park obtained some limited funding from the Zurich Zoo and Conservation International to address this issue and secure the park.
Marojejy: The State Party reports that illegal logging in Marojejy occurred over a much smaller area in the north-west of the park. It had ceased in September 2009 and that there was little risk that this threat will resume. The park had re-opened to tourism and park staff were currently undertaking field surveys in the north-west portion of the park to determine the level of damage caused by illegal logging. Overall, the State Party considers that the measures implemented to counter this threat in Marojejy were successful and limited the operations of illegal loggers.
The State Party report further provides an overview of the implementation of the Action Plan developed by the Malagasy National Parks Committee to halt illegal logging of precious woods. Some of the key activities reported include the establishment of a Task Force in October 2009 to halt illegal logging, direct action to limit the collection of illegally logged precious woods, repeated closures of all key Malagasy ports to timber exports, and commissioning the Global Witness and the Environment Investigation Agency (EIA) to investigate and report on illegal logging activities. The State Party further outlines the future actions that it will undertake in order to halt illegal logging of precious woods, including maintaining the anti-logging Task Force and granting it additional powers to effectively control and manage illegal loggers currently within Masoala National Park, and continuing surveillance of both parks and undertaking field surveys to establish the state of both parks (once the situation has returned to normal).
As demonstrated in the Global Witness / EIA report, the logging crisis seems to be driven by a number of loopholes in the legislative framework. In fact, all ebony and rosewood exploitation and export have been forbidden in Madagascar since 2006 by Ministerial Decree. However, in January 2009, an interministerial decree was issued, giving an exceptional authorisation for the export of rosewood and ebony to 13 operators till 30 April 2010, supposedly for timber collected after the 2008 cyclone. Another similar special authorisation was delivered on 21 September 2009 for the export of 25 containers. In spite of these special authorisations, all logging of rosewood and ebony remained illegal.
However, the Global Witness / EIA report clearly demonstrates that much larger volumes were exported under the cover of these decrees. It further notes that most of the timber did not originate from old stocks, but was freshly extracted from the three National Parks mentioned above. The report estimates the illegal extraction at 200 to 300 m3 per day, equivalent to 100 to 200 trees a day, harvested illegally in Masoala and Mananara National Parks and representing a commercial value of USD 800,000. Following the political crisis in January 2009, nearly 7,000 tonnes of rosewood valued at 16 million euros left the port of Vohémar. The investigation team observed that rosewood was transported openly on the roads controlled by the police and forestry administration. Based on the evidence it was able to collect, the report concludes there is complicity of many government services in the timber trafficking, including the forest administration, regional authorities and even members of the taskforce which was set up to halt the illegal logging activities. It further notes that most export licences provided by the different government services are actually in violation of the legislation and points out that certain illegal stocks were “legalised” against the payment of a fine. The report further clarifies that almost all rosewood transports are destined to China.
On 12 March 2010, the World Heritage Centre wrote a letter to the State Party, expressing its concern over repeated reports on these continuing illegal activities in the two parks. The letter reminded the State Party of the provisions of the List of World Heritage in Danger, as set out in paragraphs 177-189 of the Operational Guidelines, and noted the possibility of the property meeting the criteria for inclusion on the List of World Heritage in Danger if illegal logging was not stopped.
On 24 March 2010 a new ministerial decree N° 2010-141 was issued, restoring the ban on the exploitation and exportation of rosewood and ebony. Nevertheless, according to reports received by the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, illegal logging activities are continuing and permits are still issued to export timber, in violation of the decree, and in complicity with high authorities in Government.
With regard to the impact on the property, the State Party report concludes that the illegal logging of precious woods has lead to a reduction in overall rosewood stands in the two components of the property without resulting in an extinction risk within. However, it notes that the high level of disturbance resulting from illegal logging had knock-on effects on wildlife, including diurnal lemurs. The State Party specifically reports on increased poaching of diurnal lemurs by illegal loggers within both parks, and notes the need for a detailed field survey to establish the current population levels of each diurnal lemur species within the parks. Despite this, the State Party considers that most of the Outstanding Universal Value of Masoala and Marojejy National Parks remains intact, while acknowledging that significant negative impacts on Masoala’s values are likely.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that following the submission of the State Party report in November 2009, an aerial survey was undertaken in early March 2010 in collaboration with Madagascar National Park’s conservation partners, as well as the World Bank and the American and Norwegian embassies. This survey confirmed the presence of several illegal logging camps within both Masoala and Marojejy National Parks. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN have also received reports from NGOs indicating that hundreds of loggers are currently operating within Masoala, while Marojejy, though less affected, is still experiencing illegal logging. Information from experts working in the field indicates that the equivalent of 1,500 ship containers of precious woods have been illegally harvested (as of March 2010) and several reports have noted that loggers now need to look sometimes several days to find another rosewood tree to cut, indicating the rapid disappearance of these endemic tree species. Other sources indicate that because of the scarcity of rosewood, there is a gradual shift from illegal logging to other illegal resource extraction, such as the artisanal mining of gemstones. Increased agricultural encroachment has also been reported. Hundreds of people linked to the illegal precious wood trade have moved into the two parks and their periphery. While the State Party reports that 11,305 people are present within the parks’ periphery, NGOs report that the population probably exceeds 50,000 people.
In March 2010, the World Conservation Society (WCS) issued a report based on a lemurs survey realized in Masoala National Park in February and March. The report indicates that populations of lemurs have been disturbed on sites affected by illegal logging: for some species, such as Varecia rubra (on the IUCN red list as in danger) and Eulemur albifrons (on the IUCN red list as vulnerable), the population density was reduced by 30% to 75% and a major reduction in female fertility was observed, causing a low rate of population’s renewal and impacting the distribution of species on a long term basis.
In its state of conservation report, the State Party noted the need for international assistance to support field surveys in Masoala and Marojejy National Parks during the course of 2010 in order to determine the extent of the damage caused by illegal logging. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that following the political crisis in January 2009, key international donors, including the World Bank and USAID, suspended most of their aid to Madagascar. Many of these frozen programmes included capacity building for forestry and park officials, implementing chain-of-custody and tracking systems for timber, and provision of funding to the Ministry of Environment and Forests; this aid suspension resulted in the Ministry operating with only 10% of its previous budget. As a result, operations of mixed patrols composed of police, gendarme and park agents were halted due to funding shortages, leaving the parks exposed to illegal logging. The State Party on 15 March 2010 submitted an emergency request to the World Heritage Fund for funding for mapping the impacts of deforestation and organising patrolling missions. The World Heritage Centre requested some additional details on the budget and the implementation of the proposal and the request will be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN were also informed of a proposal to inscribe rosewood from Madagascar on CITES Annex III. They note that inscription on Annex III still allows the country to determine export quota. Options to list the relevant species in Annex II or I of CITES may therefore be more appropriate. The World Heritage Centre was also informed that a study has been commissioned by the ITTO (International Tropical Timber Organization) to determine the exact status of the species and provide advice on Listing.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are extremely concerned by ongoing illegal logging within Masoala and Marojejy National Parks, which is directly threatening the property’s Outstanding Universal Value. They note that the secondary effects of illegal logging are documented to be far more serious than the direct effects of stand reduction and habitat disturbance. Cumulatively, these effects are likely to amplify the direct impacts of illegal logging and cause serious long-term, and in some cases irreversible, ecological damage. Therefore the World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider the current situation is directly threatening the values for which the site is inscribed under criteria (x), as a result of the direct and indirect impacts on threatened endemic species, but also under criteria (ix), as a result of the impact on the ecosystem processes. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also note from reports that already a commercial lemur bushmeat trade based in Masoala and Marojejy National Parks is developing. These reports are particularly worrying as previously there was virtually no commercial bushmeat trade in Madagascar.
It is further noted that in spite of the recent decree banning all export and exploitation of rosewood and ebony, it has not slowed down illegal logging. In addition reports indicate export permits continue to be granted, contrary to the decree. Therefore, the World Heritage Centre consider that this is a clear case of ascertained threat to the Outstanding Universal value of the property and consider the property meet the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN further recommend an urgent monitoring mission to the property to develop the corrective measures and a timeframe for their implementation and to raise awareness with the authorities on their obligations in the framework of the Convention. They stress the urgent need for the Government to enforce the logging ban and put in place a credible enforcement policy. They further recommend donors to restore conservation support funding and note that attention also needs to be given to developing alternative livelihoods for the park’s periphery communities.