Under mounting pressure over illegal logging of its national parks, Madagascar's transitional government on Wednesday reinstated a ban on rosewood logging and exports.
The decree (no. 2010-141), which prohibits all exports of rosewood and precious timber for two to five years, was announced by Madagascar's Minister of Environment. According to Mongabay, the Minister has already proposed a plan to address the illegal timber trade.
With the export ban in place, the fate of 10,000-15,000 metric tons of rosewood awaiting export remains uncertain. It is also unclear whether illegal loggers and traders will be prosecuted. Nevertheless, groups that have been protesting the resumption in exports of illegally logged timber cautiously welcomed the move.
Precious hardwood logs are tied together with lianas and floated down rivers on rafts made from lighter species as trees. 5-6 lighter logs are needed to float each rosewood log, exacerbating the impact of rosewood extraction.
"The moratorium is a massive victory on the rosewood front - said Derek Schuurman, of Madagascar Conservation Journal and TRAFFIC - Global outcry over rosewood logging obliged the government to take action."
"There is still a lot to do... but we have succeeded on the first step," added Lucienne Wilm‚, a French scientist who has been tracking the rosewood trade.
Criticism of rosewood trafficking ratcheted up in last week when Delmas a French cargo company, resumed timber shipments from Vohemar, a port in northeastern Madagascar where large stockpiles of rosewood are held. After a WWF report on illegal logging in Madagascar national parks,, Ecological Internet, a Web-based activist group, expanded an email campaign which has sent thousands of messages of protest, while environment groups Global Witness and the Investigation Agency (EIA) launched a public appeal to the governments of France and Madagascar. The concerns were spotlighted in national and international press, putting pressure on Madagascar's transition government, which sanctioned timber exports at the end of 2009 despite a long-standing ban on rosewood logging.
But questions remain on whether the current government - which seized power during a military coup a year ago - has the will to effectively implement and enforce the moratorium. Some prominent advisers to the administration have been linked to the timber trade.
In the aftermath of a military coup last March, Madagascar's rainforests were pillaged for precious hardwoods, including rosewood and ebony. Tens of thousands of hectares were affected, including some of the island's most biologically diverse national parks: Marojejy, Masoala, and Makira. Illegal logging spurred the rise of a commercial bushmeat trade. Hunters slaughtered rare and gentle lemurs for restaurants. Timber trafficking, which involved armed gangs marauding through national parks, also hurt tourism, a critical source of direct and indirect income for many Malagasy, as the people of Madagascar are known. Rosewood traders intimidated, and in some cases, beat, those who attempted to stop the plunder.