San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Lumber Companies Eye Fallen Timber in RAAN

Several foreign companies have made offers to export some of the 10 million cubic meters of wood that was downed by last year s Category 5 Hurricane Felix in the northern Caribbean, but most of the offers are based on unrealistic fantasies, said Forestry Institute Director William Schwartz.

Most companies that have looked to invest in the region s wood-export industry would have to start from scratch by building up infrastructure that is nonexistent or deteriorated, including the decrepit regional port at Puerto Cabezas and roadways that reach the secluded areas with most of the fallen timber.

Otherwise, expensive transportation, such as helicopters, would be needed to take wood out of the region and get it to Managua.

Few offers are serious because it requires up to $300 million in start-up investment, Schwartz said.

Because there s so much fallen wood, Schwartz said INAFOR isn t giving permits to companies that want to cut primary forest in other parts of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), such as Rosita, in an effort to get companies to take advantage of what nature has already felled.

One of the more promising proposals so far, he said, is the Venezuelan government s bid for a concession to invest between $20 million and $50 million to exploit fallen timber in Puerto Cabezas.

The concession was recently approved by the regional RAAN government s board of directors, but is pending the regional council s approval. The company would gain rights to 50,000 hectares of fallen wood, Schwartz said.

The World Bank is also set to unleash next year $2.5 million that will help exploit fallen wood in the region, Schwartz said.

Clemente Ponçon, whose logging company MAPINIC has built an extraction road to ship fallen timber to Managua and export it, says he is in talks with the World Bank to clean up several thousand hectares to make room for a farming business.

He wants to clear land to make way for crops including banana, cacao, organic pineapple and African palm for biodiesel which would bring productive crops to a poverty-stricken region.

As part of the deal, he said he would hand over some 200 manzanas to leading Nicaraguan environmentalist Jaime Incer for a reforestation project.

But above all I want to develop the zone with a crop that will bring in some money for locals, he said.

It s one of the more serious proposals, Schwartz said. He considers less serious a Chinese-American company s proposal to ship wood out with dozens of helicopters, because of high investment costs.

In the meantime, the government has 17 portable sawmills working throughout the region, which the RAAN s council is using in cooperation with local logging companies to get the wood out, Schwartz says.

Clearly, they won t be able to get all that wood out, he said.

-Blake Schmidt


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