Mon, 10 Feb 2003

Money, guns destroy protected forest in Central Kalimantan

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Tanjung Puting, Central Kalimantan

Purnawarman, a forest ranger, has felt powerless in facing the illegal loggers syndicate backed by unauthorized security personnel, which has been operating in Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan, home to thousands of species of flora and fauna.

He has tried many things to stop the illegal logging but within four years, 50 percent of the 400,000-hectare protected forest has been stripped bare, leaving the area barren, without any intervention by relevant authorities.

"The illegal logging has been going on for four years. I have complained about it and have reported that the syndicates have involved security personnel, but so far, no measures have been taken to curb it," he said to a group of journalists who, along officials from the Ministry of Forestry, visited the national park.

For example, Purnawarman said that in 2001, the forest ranger office in Pembuang Hulu was raided by an unidentified mob who protested the confiscation of the logs they had stolen from the national park.

The local people did not help them because they were afraid of being similarly terrorized.

Yayat, another forest ranger, and others shared the same view. They said they could not do anything to halt the illegal logging, because the illegal loggers were backed by timber tycoons and security personnel.

"We're alone here and running short of facilities and logistics," said Yayat, who has been serving the Park for over 20 years. "It's not strange that many forest rangers give in to the temptation of looting the forest to survive."

The forest rangers' fear and powerlessness is a reflection of the government's inability and failure to manage protected forests across the country. The government has allowed the development of a road dividing the Leuser National Park in Aceh, and has allowed mining companies to operate in several natural reserves and protected forests.

According to local administration officials, the unchecked illegal logging in the protected forest is supported by timber businessmen who harvest the logs and employ the soldiers to protect them from forest rangers.

The forestry law carrying harsh sanctions against illegal loggers is not enforced effectively because of the absence of strong commitment.

Law No. 41/1999 on Forestry carries a 10-year jail sentence and/or a fine of Rp 5 billion (US$555,000) for those who cut down forests illegally and for those who back illegal logging activities.

The government launched a special operation called Wanalaga from Feb. 1 to Feb. 28 this year to crack down on illegal logging, which involves the Ministry of Forestry, the National Police and the Indonesian Military.

But analysts believe such an operation will not be effective as in the remaining 11 months of the year, the illegal loggers will continue their activities without any serious actions against them.

The operation has so far detained four suspected perpetrators and confiscated around 14,000 cubic meters of logs, which could, according to one estimate, reach a value of Rp 2 billion.

But the confiscated logs are too small compared to the total logs smuggled from the Park. The government has suffered over Rp 70 billion in annual revenues from the illegal logging in the protected forest.

The irony is that those backing the illegal loggers, mostly locals, are still untouchable.

Yayat went on to say such an operation would be effective if the dozens of sawmills near the forest and the timber-related firms in Java that received illegal logs from the park were closed down.

Director General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation I Made Subadia said the government was serious in fighting illegal loggers through various programs, including active measures to shut down the operations.

However, he admitted that there were difficulties for the forest rangers in helping to eliminate the illegal logging syndicates due to the constant fear of attacks.

"Therefore, such an operation to crack down on illegal logging was required to give a kind of shock therapy to illegal loggers and to encourage forest rangers to protect the Park," he said.

Besides, he said, the police would deploy more police officers to help monitor the Park after the Wanalaga operation.