03 October 2011

Gibson and CITES: Attention finally being paid to Madagascar?

If you know anything about socio-ecological issues in Madagascar, you know that exploitation of precious timber, especially rosewood, ebony, and polysandre, has been especially egregious since the 2009 coup d'etat. Even if you don't know anything about Madagascar, you might have heard recently of the ramifications of this through your rabid devourment of American political news. US Fish and Wildlife Service investigations of Gibson guitar have become a battleground between tea-party activists who think the government is over-regulating and environmentalists who see corporate greed ravishing the forests of impoverished nations like Madagascar. Here's a link to a fairly comprehensive article about the case from the Tennessean, published in the home state of Gibson Guitars.

The Myth of the Virgin Forest

A new meta-analysis of 138 studies across the tropics was published in the online edition of Nature a few days ago and found that, “primary forests are irreplaceable for sustaining biodiversity.”

I was drawn to this article because it has been picked up by the popular media. This piece is already being wielded to call from stronger protection of these forests. In interview, one of the first authors does just this. Luke Gibson tells us, “It is therefore essential to limit the reach of humans and to preserve the world’s remaining old-growth rainforests while they still exist. The future of tropical biodiversity depends on it.”

What interests me is that it is never clear what forests they are talking about. Part of the problem is that the language is loose. Are “primary” and “old-growth” the same thing? Gibson seems to imply so.

In a quick google search of the sources publishing about this article, nearly every one on the first page uses a different epithet for these forests. From the first 6 headlines we get: “Virgin forests,” “natural forests,” “old growth forests,” “primary forests,” “pristine forests,” and “rainforest.” All of these names seem to conjure an idea of an untouched forest far from humans where nature can thrive free from the negative effects of our species. They all embody the wilderness myth.

To further highlight this let’s see what kind of land this pristine forest is contrasted against. “Degraded forests,” “disturbed forests” and “a re-modeled home,” and one piece from The Conversation tells us, “We live in an age of vanishing rainforests.”

This is the conservation myth.