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Mismanaged logging has always created severe environmental problem
A direct impact of logging is global warming which results in rising temperatures and droughts, which has destroyed the habitats of many animal species
- illegal logging and logging under the shelter of politicians and lawful authorities have increased at growing rates
- According to the UNDP, the removal of forest cover is a factor that increases the risk of landslides
- Around 1,933,000 hectares of forest cover provides natural habitats for around 217 species of endemic plants
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Sri Lanka is a country with rich biodiversity. This green nation is blessed with highly diversified clusters of forests including Dry Monsoon Forests, Moist Monsoon Forests, Tropical Rain Forests, Wet Zone Mid-Country Forests and Wet Zone Up-country Forests. Around 1,933,000 hectares of forest cover provides natural habitats for around 217 species of endemic plants and more than 287 species of endemic animals where a traveller can experience highly diversified environments within this tiny island of 65,610km. Unfortunately, this natural beauty of Sri Lanka is gradually deteriorating due to deforestation.
Impact on Biodiversity
Logging has become a threat to the survival of endangered species of both plants and animals. The Bandula barb is an endemic species of fish which is an inhabitant of little watercourses in Galapitamada, Kegalle. Currently, this species is being wiped out as most of the watercourses are drying due to logging. The Blind eel, which is also a freshwater fish, is another example of an animal species struggling for its survival. Typically, their habitats are the moisture on roots of huge trees such as the Arjun tree (Kumbuk) and South Indian Mahua (Mee), in Muthurajawela and other wetlands in the Western Province. For plants, 1099 species have been identified by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered due to the higher rate of deforestation. Of the above figure, 412 species among them are endemic to Sri Lanka with a high concentration in the Kandy District.
A direct impact of logging is global warming which results in rising temperatures and droughts, which has destroyed the habitats of many animal species including twenty-five endemic bird species in the wet zone and 88 endemic amphibians including the Bubble Nest Frog. Coral reefs are also affected by rising temperature.
In addition to global warming, logging has other direct and indirect impacts on the environment, such as soil erosion, irregular water flow, flash floods during the rainy seasons, reduction of life span and capacity of water reservoirs etc. According to the UNDP, the removal of forest cover is a factor that increases the risk of landslides - the Central Province is such an example. Agricultural productivity is also affected as soil erosion together with lack of water will reduce soil fertility.
Mismanaged logging has always created severe environmental problems. The Government of Sri Lanka has imposed a crystal-clear legal framework to manage and control logging. Felling of Trees (Control) Act, No. 9 of 1951, states that a special license should be obtained to log Jack, Breadfruit, Female Borassus and coconut trees. Authority to issue a particular license is based on the number of trees expected to be cut, and is vested upon the Divisional Secretary, District Secretary and finally the Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. Furthermore, section 21 of No. 47 of 1980 National Environmental Act, No. 16 of 1907 Forests Conservation Ordinance and many other specific enactments provide legal background for the protection of trees.
Despite the prevailing regulatory framework, illegal logging and logging under the shelter of politicians and lawful authorities have increased at growing rates. This has affected the social norms of society. On the one hand, mismanaged legal logging under the protection of authorities is a violation of rights and discrimination against the forest community. This issue is further exacerbated when the subsistence level of logging is exceeded due to permission granted by the government, whereby it now also becomes a violation of the rule of law. A case in point is the present situation at Wilpattu, where in addition to the environmental degradation due to logging there is an ethnic issue amongst the Sinhalese and Muslim communities in the area.
Logging, forestry and timber-related industries are key elements of the economy (Table 01) and have contributed 0.755% to the GDP of Sri Lanka according to the CBSL Annual Report 2018. It is clear that most of the productive economic activities concerning logging were excluded from the national accounts due to unavailability of data. This is a clear loss of government revenue. When considering global examples, the Indonesian Government had lost US$7 billion between 2007 and 2011 due to illegal logging and forest sector mismanagement. In Mozambique, over US$20 million was lost to state revenues in 2012 from unpaid taxes on timber exports to China.
The income gained by governments in a financial year would be reinvested on reforestation in the subsequent financial year. The lost revenue due to illegal or politically influenced logging cannot be reinvested in the sector. The impact on the economy will be doubled when illegal timber is sold at the market for a lower price than legally logged timber, leading to an underestimation of the value of timber production during a particular year. Further, it excludes the innocent dependants of logging and forestry that are doing so within the framework of the law.
Mismanaged logging and allowing a few groups to cut off trees uncontrollably will accelerate the nett deforestation rate. Continuation of this malpractice will affect the sustainability of the sector by perturbing the existing market. In the short run, there could be a potential over-supply of wood leading to revenue income losses. In the long run, with dwindling natural resources due to deforestation we would have the reverse situation where the supply cannot match the demand leading to increases in the price of wood.
Logging is an activity with negative consequences for the environment when it exceeds established thresholds or is mismanaged. It also creates issues in social and economic spheres. In the Sri Lankan setting, we have existing laws for its regulation and management, but the implementation and adherence to the law is poor. If it is properly managed it could have a positive impact on the Sri Lankan economy and contribute in a sustainable manner. The sad fact, however, is that deforestation due to logging is continuing at an average rate of 26,800 hectares per year since 1990.