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Samoans fight loggers - and win.

In 1989, the government of Western Samoa directed the village of Falealupo to build a new school. Located on the island of Savaii, 2,800 miles south of Hawaii, the village couldn't find the money, so Chief Fuiono Senio and the elders reluctantly sold logging rights to 30,000 acres of tropical hardwoods for $2.50 per acre.

Since about 80 percent of the lowlands on the volcanic island had already been logged, and about one-third of its higher plants are found nowhere else, the contract spelled doom for many unique plants and animals.

So when bulldozers began toppling the first few acres of primary rainforest, Chief Fuiono asked an ethnobotanist friend for help. For Paul Alan Cox, a professor of botany at Brigham Young University who had worked in Samoa for 15 years, it was a defining moment. After watching the whole village weeping over the loss, he decided to personally guarantee the money for the school. Chief Fuiono then grabbed his machete, ran six miles through the forest, and, standing in front of a bulldozer, told the logging crew that they would become "the dust of the earth" if they toppled another tree. The crew departed.

So instead of becoming a tropical clearcut, that 30,000 acres of rainforest became one of the world's first indigenous-controlled forest reserves. "We are the guardians of the rainforest on our island," Senio said in an interview. "Every single plant has meaning and significance for us." More than beauty and biodiversity is at stake in these forests. In 1984, Cox learned from a local healer about a plant that treated the viral disease yellow fever; an extract of that plant is now being tested as a possible treatment for the AIDS virus.

Deforestation also causes siltation, which imperils the biodiversity of the coral reefs. These coral reefs, by serving as fish nurseries, help support the productivity of the ocean. "The reefs, forests, and cultures of Polynesia are linked -- a triangle," says Cox. "If we lose any side of that triangle, we'll lose the whole system."

In another example of rising indigenous activism in Western Samoa, tribal chieftain Va'asilifiti Moelagi Jackson organized an indigenous conservation organization, Fa'asao Savaii, that establishes preserves in rainforests and coral reefs. Last fall, chiefs Fuiono and Jackson received the Indigenous Conservationist Award in Provo, Utah from the nonprofit Seacology Foundation.

Seacology has already helped establish 65,000 acres of nature preserves on Western and American Samoa, and is raising funds to set aside 200,000 more. "Perhaps the most important thing we need from the U.S.," said chief Fuiono, "is support for our public works, schools and churches. We're grateful for that sort of assistance because it helps us kick the logging companies out."

Contact: Seacology Foundation, 3707 North Canyon Road, Provo, UT 84604/(801)221-1901.
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Author:Tennenbaum, Dave
Publication:E
Date:Aug 1, 1995
Words:469
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