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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 12, 2001 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is to cease the logging of mangrove trees in Papua New Guinea, according to a Sydney newspaper report.

It will also process trees felled further upstream along the Kikori River.

The Sydney Morning Herald said recently the landmark eco-forestry project, which has been operating for several years, had been deemed to be "illegal."

The project was partly funded by Chevron Niugini and its other partners in the Kutubu oil project after they had entered into an agreement with the U.S. arm of the WWF.

"Secret internal Chevron documents state that the 'WWF will act as a buffer for the joint venture against environmentally damaging activities in the region, and against international environmental criticism'," the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

After oil production began in 1992 the paper said Chevron finalized an agreement with the WWF to develop a "model integrated conservation and development project (ICDP) for the Kikori River Basin."

The oil companies provided more than A$ 1 million (US$ 500,000) a year for an initial period of six years.

In November 1996 WWF set up a profit-making company, Kikori Pacific Ltd., and "hoped the company would one day become independently viable, but accepted it would initially depend on grant money."

According to the Herald, the WWF found that things did not work out almost from the start because some "communities had signed agreements with industrial logging companies or were not interested in eco-forestry because they were already receiving financial benefits from the oil project."

With the backing of the WWF, KPL sourced its timber from a company called Iviri Timbers, a company that cut mangrove forests even though this was prohibited under the PNG logging code of practice.

The Herald added: "Despite this the WWF sought external funding for the project as a 'conservation initiative of global significance' and as an eco-forestry enterprise which could be used as a model."

It said funds were received from the U.S MacArthur Foundation and the U.S. State Department. Additional support was received subsequently from the World Bank affiliated International Finance Corporation and the Global Environmental Facility, which provided a US$ 250,000, 10-year, low-interest loan.

The paper said KPL last year made its first shipment to an Australian company, Woodage, which specialized in the use of sustainable timber.

The wood was meant for the Sydney Olympics and sold as 'environmentally friendly' but "for some reason, the timber never made it to the Games."

Woodage's owner, Peter Mussett, said he had imported one container with 18 cubic meters of timber but this was not what Australians understood to be classic mangrove trees.

Instead, they were 'large grown' mangrove cedar and Papuan mahogany trees that grow in saline soil at the back of the mangrove swamps. It was of a high quality and used for making furniture, wholesaling at A$ 2,500 (US$ 1,277) a cubic meter, he said.

Meantime, an internal WWF report on the operations of KPL had said that KPL was "doomed to failure from the beginning" and that it "should stop logging mangroves."

It also noted that because the logging was against the PNG logging code of practice it could never achieve certification by the international grouping, the Forest Stewardship Council.

The Herald said that six months after the completion of this report, illegal logging of mangroves continues to go on.

"Externally it is business as usual," the paper said. "The WWF and the World Bank say that KPL has a triple bottom line, environmentally sound, socially just and financially viable."

The paper said a WWFUS board member, Jared Diamond, a Pulitzer Prize winner, remains "unrepentant", holding the view that even if logging was illegal "if it can be done on a sustainable basis then by all means do it."

The Herald said WWF PNG had instructed KPL to phase out the acceptance of mangroves. It quoted the deputy manager of KPL, Max Kuduk, as saying that "this will happen pretty soon - sooner than later."

However Mr. Kuduk maintained KPL had done nothing illegal, having received approval from the Departments of Environment and Forestry for small-scale, selective logging in mangrove areas.

"Every tree that is cut down is marked by a (government) forester. No more than three or four trees per hectare are taken."

He said negotiations were under way with a new milling company, Darkend Lumber, which would fell trees further upstream and that KPL had been surveying upstream areas for two years and marking stands of trees for felling.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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