Rainforest people on felled tree, Sarawak

Credits: © Dang Ngo / Greenpeace

Nomadic Penan leader Along Sega and his grandchild examine a tree stump near their village in the Sungai Nyakit area of the Sarawak rainforest in Malaysia.Their homeland is undergoing one of the highest rates of logging on earth.

The Penan are one of the few remaining nomadic peoples of the rainforest.For years, they have been fighting to defend their land and forests against 'development' plans involving logging, oil palm plantations, pulpwood plantations, hydroelectric dams, mining activities and resorts development. These activities, which count on the support of local and national authorities, are not only destroying their livelihoods but also, as in the case of the nomadic Penans, are putting their existence as a culture at risk.

Nowadays, there are only about 10,000 Penans left in Sarawak's interior region. As well as other Dayak peoples, they have been and still are victims of all kinds of abuses, including physical violence, at the hands of police and intimidation by thugs deployed by timber companies. Global wood consumption has tripled in the last hundred years, growing in rough tandem with world population. Commercial logging of forests has doubled in size as an industry since 1960. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that between five to six million hectares of tropical forest are logged annually. Logging is most damaging to forests when conducted unsustainably and contributes to deforestation in direct and indirect ways:

  • Timber concessions: Increasingly, governments seeking a quick source of capital sell their forest resources to timber companies in the form of timber concessions that allow them to log the forest for a pre-determined time.
  • Short-term concessions can create a "cut-and-run" attitude among logging companies, encouraging them to extract as much timber as possible without regard for the long-term management of the forest.
  • Collateral damage: The mechanised equipment used to cut and haul logs can severely damage trees and other vegetation left standing after a forest has been logged. Assessments of tropical forest logging in Southeast Asia have recorded damage to 50 per cent of the residual tree cover with 40 per cent of the surrounding area crushed by bulldozers. Residual waste left to rot on the forest floor increases the risk of fires.
  • Fragmented forests: Clearing strips of forest cover can create fragments from formerly intact forest areas, exposing the moist ground cover to the penetrating tropical sun. Fragmented forests are highly susceptible to fires and provide habitats ill-suited to larger animal species that require substantial areas of unbroken forest.

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