A logging company majority-owned by Solomon Islands' forestry minister is facing a legal challenge from landowners keen to protect the cloud forest on Kolombangara Island.
The ground-breaking case has been in and out of the courts for five years and is due for its next appearance soon.
It has been a long and tortuous road for the landowners who first brought legal action in 2010 to prevent Success Company Ltd logging cloud forest on the slopes of Kolombangara's imposing volcanic mountain.
Kolombangara is home to around 6,000 people who live mostly in villages scattered around the coast of the island's single jungle-clad cone.
The cloud forest is a special kind of rainforest which grows above 400 metres.
The rare Western Province ecosystem is a source of food and water and contains cultural sites as well as species found nowhere else in the world.
Success Company Ltd is 60 per cent owned by Heinz Horst Bodo Dettke, who was re-appointed the country's forestry and research minister after elections in November.
The first court case
In 2009, the company started logging in the cloud forest in an area called Lot 1.
The legal action began in 2010 after members of the Kolombangara Island Biodiversity and Conservation Association (KIBCA) discovered the firm had failed to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and had not obtained a Development Consent from the government or the required permission for logging above 400 metres.
Kolombangara Forests Products Limited (KFPL), another company active on the island, holds a lease including land up to the rim of the island's 1770-metre peak, but it plants and cuts plantations.
After obtaining Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification in 1998, KFPL agreed to restrict its activities to below 400 metres.
KIBCA, which is largely funded as a part of KFPL's social and environmental commitments program, took its complaint to the High Court, where Success argued the association lacked standing to make a claim because it was a group representing landowners and not a landowner itself.
In August 2010, Justice David Chetwynd rejected the company's argument and granted an injunction stopping the chainsaws that were felling trees in Lot 1.
This was the first injunction of its kind granted in Solomon Islands and the decision to recognise KIBCA set a significant precedent.
"This was important because it paves the way for other landowners and environmental groups to challenge decisions that are contrary to environmental laws," said Stephanie Price, an Australian lawyer who worked on the case.
Solomon Islands has a long history of local communities complaining of unfavourable and unsustainable agreements with logging companies.
Dettke wins elections
In August 2010, Mr Dettke was elected to parliament and appointed as the minister for forestry, a position he held for just a few months before being sacked and allocated another portfolio.
The following month, then-commissioner for forests Reeves Moveni granted approval for Success's logging on Kolombangara above 400 metres.
The case went back to the High Court in November, with Justice Chetwynd extending his injunction against logging, but only pending the granting of all the proper approvals.
Success was granted a development consent in March 2011 by Joe Horokou, the director of the environment and conservation division of the ministry of environment, completing the approval process.
But the Kolombangara Biodiversity and Conservation Association was told nothing of this.
In June 2011, KIBCA welcomed then-prime minister Danny Phillip to Kolombangara, celebrating his decision to dedicate all of the 20,000 hectares above 400 metres as a "special area for conservation".
The declaration, however, lacked any legal clout.
When KIBCA found out about the approvals in July 2011, it filed an appeal to the Environmental Advisory Committee against the director's decision to grant the development consent.
That appeal is still waiting for the attention of the Environmental Advisory Committee, which has drifted apart and does not hold meetings.
The second court case
In November 2011, KIBCA took new legal action challenging the government decision-making process, by applying to the High Court for the quashing of the approval for logging over 400 metres and the development consent.
This is the case that is scheduled for hearing in April.
If the court cases were fast and the companies were punished for not following the law then the system would work. But that's not how it is.
KIBCA's coordinator Ferguson Vaghi
Success has given an undertaking in court that it will not continue logging on Lot 1 until the case is heard.
In August 2012, the attorney-general, representing Mr Moveni and Mr Horokou, filed a defence rejecting KIBCA's claim.
The grinding pace of the legal process is frustrating the Kolombangara Island Biodiversity and Conservation Association.
"If the court cases were fast and the companies were punished for not following the law then the system would work. But that's not how it is," KIBCA coordinator Ferguson Vaghi said.
"The good thing [about the legal action] ... is that it has slowed down the logging activities and it has given us time to work on more permanent solutions."
Martha Manaka, senior legal officer with the Solomon Islands government's Landowners' Advocacy and Legal Support Unit (LALSU), says that pursuing the case through the courts is important because it "sets a precedent" in how companies deal with gaining consent for logging and other activities.
LALSU and KIBCA are hoping for a favourable outcome but they know winning the court case does not guarantee long term protection.
"Even if the case succeeds and the High Court declares that the existing Development Consent and 400 metres approval are invalid, the director of environment and the commissioner of forests could just grant those consents again," Ms Price said.
A more permanent fix
KIBCA's new plan of action is to get the area above 400 metres designated as a national park under the Protected Areas Act 2010, which would make it illegal for the director and commissioner to grant approvals for logging.
This is a difficult process because it requires all of the landowners to give consent, and there are some Kolombangara people who, with few income-earning opportunities, see "locking up forests" as akin to giving them away for no return.
"It's a local mentality that can be overcome by doing what we are doing," Mr Vaghi said.
"We are used to depending on the forest for almost everything, so if we are going to stop people from making money from the forest we have to find incentives and offer alternatives."
Mr Vaghi suggests other ways of monetising the forest, such as eco-tourism, agro-forestry, honey production and other sustainable industries.
KIBCA is also challenging this mentality by awarding scholarships covering the cost of secondary schooling, in exchange for approvals from parents who feel they are being forced to choose between protecting the forest and educating their children.
Attempts were made to contact Mr Dettke for comment but he did not respond.
Dr Kayt Davies is a senior lecturer in Journalism at Edith Cowan University. She visited Kolombangara Island for this story.