A timber export industry began in the early twentieth century with a substantial timber company established at Vanikolo Island (q.v.) in the 1920s, and other small operations on other islands. After the Second World War, timber continued to be exported from Vanikolo until the 1960s, from Levers' lands at Tenaru on Guadalcanal, from Kolombangara Island in the Western District and from a few smaller mills. The demand for tropical hardwoods began to expand during the 1950s, and exploitation of Solomon Islands forests increased from the mid-1960s. Whole log exports formed an important part of the nation's post-independence finances.
The earliest major timber venture was the Vanikoro Kauri Timber Company (q.v.) which operated from 1923 to 1964. Initially funded from and producing for New Zealand, it was never very successful. The operation closed in 1942 and resumed after the war, though not fully until 1949. Most of its product was absorbed by Queensland, Australia until all logging ceased.
A Protectorate Forestry Department was funded in 1949 from Colonial Development and Welfare funds, for the protection and utilisation of timber resources. (Walker 1948, 1962; AR 1955-1956, 5-6) A Forestry Ordinance was enacted in 1960 to protect valuable forest tracts from destruction by cultivation or settlement, and to control the working of privately owned forests where the ownership of the land was clear. Surveys were then underway to ascertain the total forestry reserves. The twenty-year agreement between the Kauri Timber Company on Vanikolo which exported kauri logs and a small quantity of other species to Australia expired at the end of 1957, was then extended annually, and then from 1961 to 1967, inclusive. The company was by this time in decline and in 1959 fewer than 2.5 million superficial feet of kauri logs were exported. The other major timber company, Tenaru Sawmill Ltd. exported 440,000 superficial feet of hardwood veneer logs in 1959, about 310,000 superficial feet in 1960, with the remaining 520,000 superficial feet harvested in 1960 and consumed locally. In 1960, too, Levers Pacific Plantations Pty. Ltd. (q.v.) had begun working their leases on Kolombangara Island. (AR 1959-1960, 28-29)
There have been three periods of logging: up until the early 1960s, 1963 to the early 1980s, and the 1980s until the present. In 1960, the Protectorate Government began commercial logging on government-owned and government-leased land. Four overseas timber companies commenced large-scale extraction of tropical hardwoods in the early 1960s, laying the foundation of the modern industry: Tokyo Company, Levers Pacific Timbers Ltd. (a subsidiary of the United Africa Co. [Timber] Ltd., and both related to Levers Pacific Plantations Pty. Ltd.), Allardyce Lumber Co. Ltd. (a subsidiary of CTC Ltd., which operated in Sarawak and was financed by Australian capital), and Kalena Timber Co. Ltd. (mainly U.S. financed and with managerial staff experienced in timber operations in the Philippines and Sabah). These companies concentrated on large tracts of accessible government-controlled land with high commercial forest stocks in the Western and Isabel Districts. The largest market was in Japan. (AR 1963-1964, 31; Wairu 2007, 237)
During the 1960s, two-thirds to three-quarters of the logging industry was dominated by Levers Pacific Timbers Ltd., with the remainder divided between Allardyce Lumber Co. and Kalena Timber Co. Ltd. Allardyce's sawmill at Santa Cruz came into production in 1975, and Foxwoods (BSI Timbers) Ltd. took over milling operations on Guadalcanal from another company in 1974, with a modern mill completed in 1975. Timber was now being sourced from traditional landowners. The 1970s Protectorate-wide plans were to place an upper limit of 10 million cubic feet log volume annually and to replace ten thousand acres with fast-growing general purpose hardwoods. The Sixth Development Plan (1970-1974) sought to increase timber production to twenty million cubic feet and to replant at five thousand acres per annum. The Seventh Development Plan (1975-1979) included funds for replanting. (AR 1974, 53)
Levers withdrew in 1986 after protests over their exploitation of timber on New Georgia, and at much the same time Asian companies moved in. After independence in 1978, and particularly during the first Mamaloni government (1981-1984), the logging focus moved to Asian companies, mainly from Malaysia, and to exploitation of customary lands. These Asian companies, increasingly cut off from logging in Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea, moved into the Solomon Islands where they could operate with almost no supervision. They took advantage of the inability of the national Forestry Division and provincial governments to monitor logging: company log counts are known to have been false, promises of local development did not eventuate, reforestation seldom occurred and large red eroding scars began to be visible on the landscape. (O'Collins 1992)
Today, logging continues at more than three times the sustainable level, which is considered to be around 325,000 cubic metres per year. That level was reached soon after independence in 1978. (Larmour 1979a; Frazer 1997; Bennett 2000; Moore 2004b, 73-78; Wairiu and Nanau 2011)
- Bennett, Judith A., Pacific Forest: A History of Resource Control and Contest in Solomon Islands, c. 1800-1997, White Horse Press; Brill, Cambridge; Leiden, 2000. Details
- Moore, Clive, Happy Isles in Crisis: The Historical Causes for a Failing State in Solomon Islands, 1998-2004, Asia Pacific Press, Canberra, 2004b, ix, 265 pp. Details
- Walker, Francis S., The Forests of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, Crown Agents, London, 1948, 186 pp. Details
- Walker, Francis S., The Forests of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, 2nd edn, Govenment Printer, Honiara, 1962, 186 pp. Details
- O'Collins, Maeve, 'Forest Logging in the Solomon Islands: Economic Necessity as the Overriding Issue?', in Stephen Henningham;R.J. May;Lulu Turner (ed.), Resources, Development and Politics in the Pacific Islands, Crawford House, Bathurst, 1992, pp. 145-161. Details
- Frazer, Ian L., 'The Struggle for Control of Solomon Island Forests', Contemporary Pacific, vol. 9, no. 1, Spring, pp. 39-72. Details