Vanishing Wood – An EIA Investigation
It is not just wild fauna and their body parts that feature large on the target list of illegal wildlife traders. Illegal timber trading has long been rampant and logging of forests for high-value hardwood trees such as rosewoods and balau have had devastating impacts in the form of diminishing forest covers and degrading ecology of the logged regions.
Photo Courtesy: EIA.
And up until now, Lagerstroemia sp. better known as crape myrtle or crepe myrtle – the beautiful giants adorning the forests of Southeast Asia, were never thought to turn victim to extreme logging. This hardwood tree species ‘lost out’ to its ‘higher valued’ counter parts which bore the brunt in the past. But not anymore. The startling revelation would have remained obscure, passing knowledge if not for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) team’s continuing investigation on forest destruction and timber smuggling rampant in Laos. They have been at it since 2007, and it was only recently, that they uncovered a thriving trade in Lagerstroemia for the timber to feed the fast growing furniture and flooring industry, especially in China and Vietnam.
Illicit cross border trading of Lagerstroemia across the Southeast Asian countries of Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos has resulted in the plundering of forests for the last few remaining giants, not sparing even the smaller trees of the lot which are sold as ornamental trees. Further investigation revealed several companies advertising ‘Bằng Lằng’ wood for sale on the Internet in Vietnam, where it is known by the aforementioned common trade name. In Myanmar trading circles, they are referred to as ‘Pynima’. The team saw fleets and fleets of trucks carrying the logged remains of these majestic flora on the way to neighbouring Vietnam.
Photo Courtesy: EIA.
Once upon a time, its sheer size could have been a big deterrent that kept it from being commonly logged as its felling and extraction would have been difficult. Today, what with the timber industry adopting newer technologies and becoming increasingly mechanised, logging and logistics for these trees is no longer a problem. But, it is the insatiable, multi-billion dollar timber and furniture industries that have fuelled an industrial scale logging of these trees and the demand just keeps rising. Laos that once boasted of harbouring the largest natural cover left within the Mekong region, now is witnessing massive destruction and devastation thanks to the apathetic and prolonged government mismanagement and rampant corruption. No amount of Laos’s laws banning raw logs from being exported has managed to abate this dangerous logging trend.
Hornbills and several other animals responsible for seed dispersal call the large cavities and hollows within these trees as homes. And often, these trees are the only remaining option they have as Lagerstroemia are the only few remaining trees left in logged forests. If they are gone too, there will be none of these animals left in the barren areas which will make natural regeneration of these areas a highly difficult prospect. And as is always the case with the delicate environmental balance, one broken link results in a cascading ecological downward spiral. The already severely damaged forests of Laos will be further pushed to the edge if this trade and harvesting of these hardwood trees continues unhindered and will see the large trees going down the path of extinction.
Author: Purva Variyar.
Source: Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).