Glimmer of hope for ravaged Madagascar as precious woods nominated for trade restrictions

Antananarivo, Madagascar:  More than two years of lobbying by WWF  and Malagasy scientists, are expected to see the island’s rosewoods, ebony and other precious woods listed for international trade restrictions, giving some hope for a slowing of the organized illegal logging assault on the threatened species and the forests and protected areas where they are found.

WWF and the Department for Plant Ecology and Biology at the University of Antananarivo (DBEV) were informed this week that a proposal had been submitted to list all Malagasy precious wood species under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species(CITES) appendix lll.  On taking effect in 90 days, it will oblige trees to be certified as legally logged and give the Malagasy government leverage for seeking the support of timber importing nations in the enforcement of its laws.

Around 79 containers of rosewood are believed to have been exported from Madagascar in early June despite the promulgation in March of a decree to eradicate all exploitation and trade in precious wood.

The listing also supports a bid for more stringent CITES Appendix ll listing in 2013, which would support trade bans on Malagasy precious woods if necessary.

“The fact that the Malagasy CITES delegation has submitted this proposal is a first step into the right direction. It shows a will to deal with the uncontrolled export of those much sought-after wood species,” said Tiana Ramahaleo, Conservation Science and Species Programme Coordinator at WWF’s  Madagascar and Western Indian Ocean Programme Office.

Illegal logging of precious hardwoods has rapidly and tremendously increased in Madagascar after a political coup in March 2009. The UNESCO world heritage site including Masoala and Marojejy National Parks and the Mananara Biosphere Reserve in the island’s northeast are the main hotspots for illegal logging activities.

The Malagasy precious wood species consists of Dalbergia spp and Diospyros spp and includes varieties of Palissander, Rosewood and Ebony;  43 of the 50 Malagasy rose wood and palissander (Dalbergia) species are listed in the red list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with 87% of them being threatened.

Brazilian rosewood, also listed as vulnerable, has benefited from CITES protection since 1992. Indeed, the listing of Brazilian rosewood may have been a actor in shifting illegal logging pressure to Madagascar, although it has escalated dramatically in the political turmoil following the coup.

No Malagasy rose wood, ebony and palissander species are listed in a CITES appendix so far. The newly submitted proposal is a success for WWF’s continuous lobbying in the Malagasy government for over two years and gives hope for an inclusion of precious timber species in Appendix II in 2013.

A listing in CITES Appendix III will allow the government to effectively work with other countries to enforce the existing laws in Madagascar. It will also cover a hole in the Malagasy law concerning the protection of palissander. Certified Permits from the CITES authority will be necessary in the future certifying that each tree was cut legally and is not detrimental to species survival.

“We will benefit from more transparency in the timber trade as we will have more information about wood operators, their operation sites, the amount of wood being shipped and, last but not least, the buyers” says Ramahaleo.

“ This is also a necessary stepping stone for us to push the Malagasy CITES authorities to  list precious hard wood species in Appendix II during the next CITES Conference of the Parties in Thailand in 2013.”

WWF Madagascar programme representatives have been doing intensive lobbying within the Malagasy government for almost two years. They have supported a group of 30 plant experts and foresters to provide government officials with a solid scientific base that made a CITES proposal possible.    “WWF MWIOPO will continue doing research on hard woods species to be able to support our partners in the Malagasy CITES delegation” says Ramahaleo.

Malagasy precious hard wood species suffer from selective logging because of their high value in international markets. But with a high number of loggers within Malagasy forest, pressure on other species rise too.

With as much as 90% of the country’s primary forest already lost, continued logging will mean species extinctions beyond rosewood in Madagascar’s unique ecosystems.

Listing under CITES appendix III would not only increase the conservation of rosewood, palissander and ebony species but also help protect threatened ecosystems in general.

 “This is a good step forward, however a listing in CITES Annex III does not prevent trade, it only makes it more difficult,” said Conservation Director Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana.

“We call on the Malagasy government to walk the talk and enforce the recent decree to stop illegal logging in and outside protected areas, sanction the delinquent operators and implement the necessary actions to responsibly and sustainably manage the timber chain of custody.

"We call on Chinese consumers to stop buying illegally cut wood from Madagascar and on Chinese authorities to set higher standards on their wood sourcing."