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40 percent of Liberia's forests could be chopped down

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 7th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

As a result of secretive and frequently illegal logging permits, 40 percent of Liberia's pristine forest land could chopped down and deforested. According to a recent report by environmental groups, adding to this already inglorious situation is the fact that this logging has little or no benefit to local communities.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Control over a quarter of all of Liberia's land the past two years has been handed over to private corporations to log. "An explosion in the use of secretive and often illegal logging permits," the report reads.

Logging contracts now cover more than an area larger than the U.S. state of Maryland.

The Forestry Development Authority started issuing new licenses called "private use permits" in 2010 that contain no sustainability requirements. In essence, these agreements give free rein to clear much of Liberia's forests, which is some of Africa's richest. The forests slated to fall include almost half of its primary intact forests.

Some neighboring communities involved in the deals with the corporations say they were coerced and swindled, alleging their signatures were forged on land titles.

Minister of Information Lewis Brown described the situation as "mindboggling." Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appointed a panel last month to investigate. He confirmed criminal investigations could follow, and if permits are found to be unlawful, those contracts will be terminated.

"We were shocked by this news," Brown said. "Communities are not benefiting, the government is not getting the taxes that are required, and more than that, these guys [logging companies] are spreading out into the countryside and engaging in massive deforestation."

The United Nations Security Council had long since placed a ban on Liberia timber exports in 2003, after it found profits were used to finance the government and rebel groups in a 14-year-long conflict. Those sanctions were lifted in 2006, and logging exports resumed in 2010.

The Forest Development Authority's board of directors ordered a moratorium on logging in February of this year. Evidence, however has emerged indicating that the directive was ignored and timber deals continued to be done.

According to Global Witness,  private use permits bring in no tax revenue Logging concessions granted for public land resulted in $107 million in taxes being owed to the Liberian government between 2008 and 2011.

Private landholders who lease their land to corporations also receive little in the way of financial compensation. "Maybe $9 a log for a $600 log. The real winners here are the companies."

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