From: Reuters
Published January 14, 2008 10:22 AM

Sierra Leone bans timber exports

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone's government has banned the exportation of timber after "indiscriminate destruction" by Chinese and other foreign businessmen, a senior official said on Monday.

Hassan Mohammed, deputy director of the forestry ministry, said Chinese loggers had wreaked havoc in the savannahs of northern Sierra Leone by chopping down fire-resistant trees for export.

The Pterocarpus erinaceus, also known as barwood, is valued by Asian woodcarvers but is becoming increasingly rare in West Africa.

"Because of the indiscriminate destruction by some Chinese businessmen and other foreign nationals, the government has banned the exportation of timber from Sierra Leone," he told Reuters in an interview.

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Local tribal authorities had collaborated with the Chinese businessmen in the logging, which had driven off wild animals from the area and provoked a creeping desertification.

"We are now expecting that inhabitants living around the area will have to move to secured towns and villages as displaced," Mohammed said.

Without tree roots to bind the earth, erosion had swept away most of fertile top soil, making it impossible for local pastoralists to graze their livestock.

Mohammed said the government was looking at changing forestry legislation for both Sierra Leoneans and foreigners seeking to exploit the West African country's timber resources, often by illegally logging trees and smuggling the wood across the Guinean border.

Accurate figures for lumber exports are not available due to the prevalence of illegal logging, Mohammed said.

Sierra Leone's environment was badly damaged during a 1991-2002 civil war during which many jungle species, particularly apes and monkeys, were hunted nearly into extinction for bush-meat.

(Reporting by Christo Johnson, writing by Daniel Flynn, editing by Mary Gabriel)

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