International Appeal to China: Stop Burmese Rainforest Logging
PORTLAND, Oregon, July 2, 2004 (ENS) - Clearcut logging by Chinese crews in a mountainous forest area of northwest Burma known as the N'Mai Hku is of great concern to U.S. and international conservationists, and they have written to inform Chinese Premier Wen Jia-bao of their fear that this unique ecosystem is being destroyed for short-term economic gain.
Following a ban on logging in China's Yunnan province in 1998, the N'Mai Hku area bordering China's Yunnan province was opened to logging concessions for Chinese timber companies. The logging ban was imposed to leave more Chinese trees standing that could soak up the annual monsoon rains, but across the border forests are falling to Chinese loggers and the steep hillsides are eroding.
The conservationists' letter urges the Chinese government to extend protection across the border by restricting logging operations in this section of Burma, also known as Myanmar.
"To preserve ecological integrity in the entire region," the signers of the letter "request that the Chinese government take immediate action to halt all logging in the N'Mai Hku area, implement stricter cross-border trade regulations, and more effectively apply the existing laws to prevent corruption."
Signing on to the letter are 13 organizations including two based in Oregon - Bark, a Portland forest watchdog, and the Native Forest Council of Eugene. Also from the United States are Indiana Forest Alliance, International Rivers Network, Protect, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Relief, and the Southern Appalachia Biodiversity Project.
From elsewhere around the world signers include - Benerich Tropenwald of Germany, Global Association for People and the Environment of Canada, Mekong Watch of Japan, Friends of The Earth Malaysia, and Tebtebba Inc., Indigenous Peoples International Centre for Policy, Research and Education of the Philippines.
Thirty-one individual scientists, conservationists and attorneys from Australia, China, Germany, Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States also signed the letter.
They say that trans-border issues of deforestation and watershed threats are becoming an increasing concern throughout Asia.
The Chinese logging companies in N'Mai Hku "build logging roads and bridges that invite further destruction, and pose an extreme danger to this important watershed for both Burma (Myanmar) and China," the letter warns.
The N'Mai Hku area is part of the Gaoligongshan mountain forest eco-region located on both sides of the border between Myanmar's Kachin state and Yunnan province.
The Nujiang River, also called the Salween, and the Dulong River, called the Irrawaddy, flow through the N'Mai Hku region. "Logging these mountain forests would destroy the watersheds, causing disastrous flood-drought cycles similar to the one Yunnan experienced in 1998 that led the Chinese government to enact a logging ban," the letter says.
In 1998, seasonal monsoon rains devastated vast swathes of China, including Yunnan, killing more than 2,000 people, destroying 2.9 million houses and ruining more than nine million hectares of crops across the country.
"The international community congratulates the Chinese government on addressing past unsustainable forestry practices," the letter says, but reminding the government of the approaching 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, urges the government to "demonstrate to the world that China exercises impressive leadership and foresight in protecting forest ecosystems on a transnational, as well as domestic, scale."
"The conservation of forests along the Yunnan border should operate on a trans-border scale so the neighboring country's remaining old-growth forests are not devastated," they write.
The ecosystem, populated by some 7,000 species of plants, has remained isolated from major human disturbances until recently. The forest provides habitat for 80 species of rare or endangered animals.
In an attempt to protect this rare biodiversity, UNESCO designated the area a Chinese World Heritage Site in 2003 under the name Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas. "The site is an epicentre of Chinese biodiversity. It is also one of the richest temperate regions of the world in terms of biodiversity," the UNESCO World Heritage Committee states.
There is a close link between the forest destruction of the N'Mai Hku and the power of the ruling military government, according to a report published last July by Global Witness, a British nongovernmental organization, which focuses on the links between natural resource exploitation and conflict.
According to Chinese import data cited by Global Witness, China imported over one million cubic meters of timber from Burma in 2002. "This figure is likely to exceed 1.4 million m3 in 2003," the report estimates.
Global Witness investigations along the China–Burma border show that logging on this vast scale has led to "the destruction of large swathes of pristine forest in Kachin State, and the massive N’Mai Hku Project will only make matters worse," the group states.
Jon Buckrell of Global Witness told reporters at the launch of the group's report July 10, 2004 in Bangkok, "Revenue derived by the regime and insurgents alike from the exploitation of natural resources, including timber, has perpetuated violent armed conflict throughout Burma."
"A Conflict of Interests: The uncertain future of Burma’s forests," is the result of extensive research and fieldwork in Burma, Thailand and China,. It examines the roots of the civil war and the links between conflict and the control of natural resources in Burma.
"Burma is resource rich but surrounded by resource hungry nations, and the regime has used this fully to its advantage," said Buckrell.
The unsustainable exploitation of Burma’s forests can only be effectively addressed by engaging Burma's State Peace and Development Council on a diplomatic level, Buckrell says. "Engagement does not amount to legitimizing the regime or condoning what it does," he said.
Global Witness has encouraged a dialogue among all stakeholders, including the ethnic communities, and the government of China. The letter sent to Chinese Premier Wen Jia-bao this week is an attempt to open this dialogue in one direction. A copy was sent to the UNESCO World Heritage Commission.
The stakes could not be higher, the conservationists believe. "This unsustainable logging threatens ecological and human community integrity by destroying the Gaoligongshan watershed that indigenous livelihoods and wildlife depend on," they write.
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