For logging on islands to be sustainable, it must adhere to clearly defined parameters that limit the impact on water quality and soil erosion, according to new research in the Solomon Islands of the southwestern Pacific Ocean.
“Saving tropical forests worldwide depends upon tighter regulation of national laws and policies, as well as local buy-in for forest management,” Stacy Jupiter, one of the study’s authors and the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Melanesia program, said in a statement. “This study nicely illustrates why we need to take action now to protect the world’s remaining intact forest landscapes in order to preserve their biodiversity and important ecosystem services for people.”
The Solomon Islands has laws to protect the most sensitive areas of forest, including those 400 meters (1,310 feet) above sea level or with particularly steep slopes. But in spite of those laws, crews are still sometimes given access, write the authors of the paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters on April 17.
As part of their research, a team of scientists modeled what would happen if companies were allowed to log the forests on Kolombangara Island under several management scenarios. More than half of Kolombangara Island is forest, and no commercial logging has ever occurred there — part of the reason that it still teems with aquatic plants and animals, including several species of freshwater fish found nowhere else.
“When land-clearing extent reached 40 percent in our models, international standards for safe drinking water were exceeded nearly 40 percent of the time, even if best practices for logging were followed,” Amelia Wenger, an ecologist at the University of Queensland in Australia and the paper’s lead author, said in the statement. “Loss of the upland forest will compromise local access to clean water essential for drinking, bathing, and household washing.”
To protect this critical area, a group of indigenous landholders called the Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Conservation Association is working to get intact forests higher than 400 meters designated as a national park. Ferguson Vaghi coordinates the association, which aims to protect the natural resources on Kolombangara Island as well as to look out for the social and economic interests of local communities. It currently looks after a 194-square-kilometer (75-square-mile) reserve of the island’s high-elevation forests.
“Previously people in Solomon Islands made decisions about logging from a selfish economic perspective,” he said in the statement. “This study highlights that we also need to consider the impacts to the downstream environment.”