Cutting Liberian Conflict Timber’s Destructive Impact on Stability, SustainabilityOctober 31, 2008 By Will Rogers
Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, a Liberian environmental activist and 2006 Goldman Environmental Prize recipient, was recently named one of Time magazine’s 2008 Heroes of the Environment for his work uncovering the illegal export of Liberian conflict timber. In 2003, Siakor exposed the illegal timber trade orchestrated by Liberian President Charles Taylor and successfully lobbied the UN Security Council to ban its export in an effort to halt the destruction of one of the “last significant virgin forests in West Africa” and bring an end to the devastation that violence and poverty were wreaking upon his country.
Taylorrelied heavily on the timber industry to “export logs and import guns, financing several internal and external conflicts during his six-year presidency,” said Global Witness director Patrick Alley at a 2005 Wilson Center event. Exotic timber proved to be an easily exploitable and profitable natural resource, generating “upwards of $20 million of annual revenue—roughly 25 percent of its GDP,” said Scott Bode of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tayloris currently on trial in The Haguefor war-crimes charges linked to his role in the conflicts in Liberiaand . Sierra Leone
In 2005, presidential hopeful Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf adopted forest conservation and poverty alleviation as central policies, and when she was elected, she signed Executive Order #1, which canceled all timber concessions. “The importance of that one act to
Africa’s ecology is difficult to overestimate,” Alex Perry writes in Time, as Liberia’s forests, which cover nearly 12 million acres, play “an important role in the battle to slow climate change.”
Siakor continues to promote conservation and poverty alleviation in Liberia through his organization, the Sustainable Development Institute of Liberia. “In terms of biodiversity conservation,
’s forests are quite critical. We have some of the rarest species of plants and animals in that region,” he said in a 2006 interview with National Public Radio. In addition, millions of impoverished people depend on the land for their livelihoods, so conservation is often “about saving lives and defending those most vulnerable to economic exploitation,” Siakor told Time, emphasizing the need to look at conservation “from a human perspective.” Liberia