Madagascar's government decision to allow the export of endangered rosewood may have disastrous consequences for some of the country's unique plant and animal species, and further impoverish the large island state.
Under past Malagasy legislation it was illegal to export rosewood timber that is not processed but the prime minister recently extended an order legalising the export of illegally harvested wood.
Containers and multiple stockpiles of rosewood that are still in and around several ports in the island's north can now easily leave the country, which is one of the world's richest biodiversity hotspots.
'We strongly condemn the extension of the order as it only benefits a couple of wood operators while the Malagasy population is deprived of their natural heritage and are left poorer than ever,' said Niall O'Connor, Regional Representative of WWF Madagascar and West Indian Ocean Programme Office.
'The Prime ministers comments now opens the doors for further logging in the National Parks which puts short-term financial benefits over the interest of Malagasy people.'
In past years, Madagascar has undertaken significant efforts to stop environmental degradation, manage natural resources and preserve its unique biodiversity.
But political mayhem following a military coup in March led to the exploitation and devastation of several national parks which are home to hundreds of species unique to Madagascar.
Masoala and Marojejy National Parks and Mananara Biosphere Reserve, were severely hit by ongoing logging activities with Masoala, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, being affected most.
'This situation completely undermines years of work and millions of dollars which were spent to try to preserve the treasures of Madagascar,' O'Connor says.
In recent years, timber traders have repeatedly said logs they've harvested were the result of cyclones. With protected areas being among the only places where precious wood trees are still fairly common, these forests will be targeted further, says O'Connor.
A report titled Investigation into the illegal felling, transport and export of precious woods in SAVA region Madagascar, published at the end of November 2009 by Global Witness, stated that 'the team observed intensive logging of rosewood trees in the northeast of Masoala National Park, and transport of logs to Antalaha.
The intensive transport of rosewood in broad daylight, on sections of road policed by Gendarmerie posts, both to the south and to the north of Antalaha, demonstrates a serious breakdown in the rule of law - if not the active collusion of law enforcement authorities with illegal timber traffickers.'
Illegal logging continues in Masoala National Park with a possible shift from rosewood towards Palissander, another precious wood found in the moist forests of Madagascar.
Missouri Botanical Garden estimated the minimum number of rosewood trees cut in the northeastern protected areas at 45,750 for Marojejy National Park and the northern sector of Masoala National Park, and at a minimum of 7,750 and 15,500 from Makira Natural Park and the southern sector of Masoala National Park.
The authors further stated, that 170 containers were exported on Dec. 4 2009, 4 days after the inter-ministerial order from September ended. Rosewood worth more than 220 Million USD has already been exported, says the report.
Up to 20,000 hectares of protected forest could be affected by last year's logging activities.
WWF's Conservation Director in Madagascar, Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana says, that the consequences for affected ecosystems could be devastating.
'With thousands of not yet described plant and animal species in Madagascar, we don't know how many of them depend directly on rosewood as a resource. We also don't know to what extent logging activities were responsible for the decrease of lemur populations over the last year. But we fear that habitat disturbance and bush meat hunting will push several endemic species to the brink of extinction'