Saturday, July 21, 2007

Destructive Logging and Deforestation

The deforestation problem in Indonesia is spreading. Illegal and destructive logging is a major cause. In addition, conversion of forest areas for the development of oil palm and the pulp and paper industry has been substantial. Since the beginning of this decade, as much as 2.8 million ha of Indonesia’s forests have been lost each year to illegal and destructive logging. This has led to US $4 billion or 40 trillion rupiah in losses to the State per year.

If we put two and two together, forest conversion and the pulp and paper industry are also causal factors in the rising rate of deforestation. We know that some 15.9 million ha of natural tropical forest has been cleared for forest conversion. The conversion of forests for oil palm development is a contributing factor to the increase in deforestation in Indonesia. From being prime land, 15.9 million ha of natural tropical forests have been cleared. On the contrary, there has been no meaningful increase in planted land area. Plantation area has only increased to 5.5 million ha in 2004, from 3.17 million ha in 2000. More than 10 million ha of forest have been abandoned after the ‘harvest’ of the wood crop growing there.

Similarly, the pulp and paper industry have also brought problems. This industry needs at least 27 million cubic meters of timber each year (Department of Forestry, 2006). Since plantation forests can only supply 30 percent of the total demand for pulp, this industry continues logging activities in natural forests, harvesting some 21.8 million cubic meters in order to fulfill its annual requirement. The timber obtained from natural forests is owned by company affiliates or taken from the concessions of its partners. This is not mentioning plywood or other trades, for which only 25% of timber requirements are supplied by plantation forests.

The negative impacts of forestry crime in Indonesia are described above. Economic losses from forestry crimes such as illegal logging, conversion of natural forests, and so on, are calculated to reach 200 trillion Rupiah. This loss does not include ecological disasters caused by illegal logging activities, such as floods and landslides, which now occur frequently in all corners of the Archipelago.

WALHI deduces that the ecological degradation caused by forestry crimes is caused, at least, by two major factors: (1) differences in the outlooks and value systems upheld by the community, the forestry department, and the government (both local and central); and (2) erosion of the judicial process due to corruption, collusion and nepotism. At this point, enforcement of the law is inconsistent.

Inconsistency in the judicial process is caused by the viruses of corruption, collusion and nepotism, which intricately bind the immediate interests of law enforcers (and even bureaucratic officers) throughout the judicial process, starting with the police, attorneys and the judiciary. The result is that anti-illegal logging operations in Papua Province (March 2005) failed to catch top-rung criminals or their protectors in the police force and military. From this operation, 186 suspects were arrested. But, until January 2007, only 13 suspects had been successfully prosecuted and not one syndicate leader has been caught. From the 18 major cases that have reached court, all accused have been released.

Furthermore, differences in the outlooks and value systems upheld by the community, the forestry department and the government (both local and central) have been a major factor in the increasing rate of forestry crime. From the community’s perspective, forests function to protect people from high winds, drought and erosion. The forestry department also recognises the ecological functions of the forests; however, illegal clearing and logging are allowed to continue in accordance with the economic calculations maintained by the forestry department. Similarly, the government’s stance also draws from economic aspects of forests rather than its ecological functions. For them, the forests are a resource with abundant natural resource wealth that must be extracted for the national income. Unfortunately, the development policies that are implemented do not favour forest sustainability.

As we track the rate of forestry crime (illegal logging, conversion of forests without replanting, the unlimited thirst of the pulp and paper industry for wood), it is clear that the government needs to halt several forms of forestry crime that have the potential to trigger a series of ecological disasters, such as floods, landslides, and drought. In addition, community involvement (especially the traditional community) in securing forest conservation is highly necessary. Moreover, the seriousness of all law enforcers (starting with the police force, attorney, to the judge) is crucial to stopping deforestation associated with forestry crimes. Without the serious involvement of all parties in carrying out surveillance, it is quite possible that Indonesia’s forests will be completely cleared in the not-too-distant future.

Finally, deforestation as a consequence of illegal logging is caused, at least, by three major factors, that is, the lack of acknowledgement by the government of people’s rights to manage their forest resources, widespread corruption in various sectors of forest resource management, and the large gap between supply and demand. If these three factors are not immediately overcome – make no mistake – Indonesia’s forests will be rapidly cleared within a short timeframe.

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