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Amid rampant logging, a ray of hope in African rainforest
YAOUNDE, Cameroon (CNN) -- Commercial logging consumes nearly 40,000 square kilometers of African forest each year, an area the size Switzerland.
Much of it falls to chainsaws in the vast central African rainforest. Second in size only to the Amazon, it shelters more than half of Africa's wild plants and animals.
Many endangered species face certain extinction if destruction on this scale continues. But signs suggest the uncontrolled commercial logging in central Africa might slow down.
Government officials in the region increasingly are recognizing the benefits of preserving the forests.
"We want to preserve this forest for the interests of the international community and for our own interests, the interests of Cameroon," said Sylvestre Naah Ondoua, Cameroon minister of environment and forests.
Prince Philip lends a royal hand
The central rainforest stretches into seven African nations, each burdened with poverty, international debt, pervasive corruption, and civil strife or war.
For these countries, exporting timber has provided a major source of cash; protecting forests from over-exploitation has been a low priority.
But they have taken tentative steps toward protection. A year ago, leaders from six central African states signed a declaration that may lead to protection of some forest areas and sustainable management of the remainder.
The summit was co-chaired by Prince Philip of Great Britain, president emeritus of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), which helped facilitate the meeting.
"It was very successful," said Steve Gartlan of the WWF. "The commitments that were made were valuable."
Besides diplomatic agreements, simple economics could help protect some forestlands.
Most Asian logging companies have packed up and left the region, reeling from financial crises back home. Some Africans blamed the Asians for much of the deforestation, saying they were for taking logging practices to new levels of greed.
Skeptics say nothing has changed
In Cameroon, the government has imposed a ban on log exports, a measure intended to promote local processing and conserve forest resources.
Some experts say these are positive signals that the central African forest can still be saved from widespread destruction. But others say nothing has really changed.
Cameroon's government has exempted the most important commercial tree species from the export ban. And Asian loggers are expected to return when their economies recover.
As for the forest summit, critics say, the final declaration was a watered-down statement of principles. There was no mention of new specific protected areas that conservationists hoped summit delegates would endorse.
And the Democratic Republic of Congo, distracted by an ugly civil war, did not even attend. Its rain forest is larger than those in the six other nations combined.
Yet some conservationists believe progress has taken place, at least in placing forest conservation on the official agenda.
"We've been given an opportunity now, a challenge, and it's our responsibility to make sure that things are delivered substantively," Gartlan said.
Real progress would mean governments create new protected forest areas and take serious measures to stop destructive logging. So far, the governments are talking about it, but little more.
Rainforest people go from eating to protecting rare turtle
Worldwide Fund for Nature
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