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Philippine island earns rare logging reprieve
PALAWAN, Philippines (CNN) -- Unlike much of Southeast Asia, one island in the Philippines has managed to halt large-scale logging. The reprieve could help preserve the ecological health of Palawan, but some islanders must now struggle to ensure their economic livelihood.
On the land there are still scars and open wounds from years of logging, oozing silt into lagoons and smothering the coral reefs.
"With all the activities of cutting down the trees out there, inside, they were depositing all the big logs, ready for pickup by big ships," said Geronimo Reyes of the International Marinelife Alliance.
Also remaining are many of the people who had worked for the loggers, now unemployed and seeking other ways to feed their families. Life is not as easy as it was before, said one man.
In other parts of the Philippines, loggers are still cutting the remaining forests, leftovers of a logging boom that made fortunes for political and military cronies under former president Ferdinand Marcos.
But on the island of Palawan, the era of destructive logging has ended, a direct result of free democratic elections in 1992.
"Suddenly there were people who came to realize that there must be some things that must be done about the natural environment," said Salvador Socrates, the late governor of Palawan, in one of his last interviews before he died in a recent plane crash.
Existing logging concessions here were cancelled, and new legislation banned all commercial logging on the island.
Palawan is an unusual place, where powerful, politically connected logging interests were soundly defeated by free elections and where even the former logging bosses now profess to be environmentalists.
The change was a victory for those who campaigned to save the forests, but it created a new set of problems.
Many unemployed logging workers turned to illegal fishing with dynamite and cyanide. And without logging there's more pressure to create other new jobs for young people.
Authorities in Palawan say many new jobs will be found in a growing tourism industry, based on a spectacular natural environment that is now protected.
Much has already been lost here. Stumps mark the site of what was once a dense forest of massive, ancient trees. Philippine parrots, once common, are rarely found.
But the people who live here are grateful that the logging company did at least build them a 10-mile road leading to town, more than the government ever gave them.
The government's major challenge now is finding a balance between conservation and economic development, according to the late governor Socrates.
Palawan is one of the few places in Southeast Asia where public and private efforts are working together to achieve that balance.
Timber industry takes a turn south
International Marinelife Alliance
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