The South Pacific is a large and geographically dispersed region stretching more than 5000 kilometres from Papua New Guinea in the west to Pitcairn Island in the east, and from the equator to the Southern tip of New Zealand. Occasionally political boundaries may exceed these definitions. It is broadly made up of the nations and territories which comprise the sub-regional groupings of Melanesia, Polynesia and Australasia.
In such a region enormous diversity is inevitable. For instance, it is not normally possible to make meaningful generalisations which will accurately describe some facet in, for example, both Australia and Tuvalu. For almost every theme discussed in this paper there will be subtle differences between the situation in individual countries that will detract from the accuracy of any generalisation. Nonetheless, the paper deals in generalisations and examples and hopefully builds a picture which broadly describes the forestry situation in the South Pacific region, if not for specific countries of the South Pacific.
The paper can be divided into two parts. The first section comprises a series of short profiles for the countries of the region outlining the forestry situation, major issues and future prospects for each. New Zealand, as the subject of a separate individual in-depth study, is omitted and generally given a minimal focus throughout the paper. The second section is a series of thematic studies which attempts, where possible, to treat the South Pacific as a single entity and look at patterns across a variety of themes while also examining various countries under these themes.
[At the outset it should be noted that the study is a desk-based research, mainly reliant on existing studies and statistics. It was evident in the course of research that the Pacific Islands forestry situation is generally not well documented in terms of statistics. There are few recent forest inventories, production and trade data are generally neither recent nor readily available. Given the generally small land areas of the Pacific islands, forest resources can be significantly depleted in a very short time in response to policy change. In some instances, patterns assumed in making future projections may have changed since the most recent available data and consequently attention should be paid to the currency of the sources noted].
The Melanesian countries are all heavily forested. Table 3 shows wooded land cover in Melanesia ranging from Fiji at 47 percent to Papua New Guinea with 93 percent. On a per capita basis Melanesia is well endowed with forests. With the exception of Fiji, which has only slightly more than one hectare per head of population, the other Melanesian countries have between five and ten hectares of forest per head. However, with the exception of Papua New Guinea, the Melanesian land area is relatively small. While Papua New Guinea is similar in size to Spain, the remaining Melanesian islands collectively have a land area only slightly larger than Ireland. As a consequence, even short run departures from sustainable management forest regimes can have significant long run impacts on forests.