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Certified logging no match for Indonesia's timber 'mafia'

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LONG HUBUNG, Indonesia — Dayak tribesman Hanye Jaang didn't know it, but he used to be part of a multi-billion-dollar "mafia" that is ravaging Indonesia's forests and, scientists say, warming the climate.

The wiry 36-year-old still cuts down trees but now he's doing it legally in a way that minimises damage to fragile forest ecosystems.

"I don't have to play hide-and-seek with the forest police anymore. It's safe doing my job now," he told AFP in the jungles of East Kalimantan, or Indonesian Borneo.

He is also free of the powerful mafia bosses known as "cukong" who run Indonesia's illicit timber industry.

"When I worked by myself I sometimes didn't get paid by the cukong. I used to earn big money but they stole my timber many times," he said.

Jaang is typical of the tribesmen who work for PT Belayan River Timber at its 97,500-hectare (241,000-acre) concession near Samarinda on southeastern Borneo.

With assistance from the US-based Nature Conservancy (TNC), the company is seeking to have its timber products certified by the internationally recognized Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as sustainably harvested.

Key to its strategy is the adoption of a cable system to pull felled trees from the forest, rather than using bulldozers that cut a four-metre (12-foot) path of destruction wherever they go.

FSC certification will enable Belayan River Timber to sell its products more easily in Europe and the United States, where import rules have recently been tightened to stem demand for cheap, illegal timber.

But experts agree that certification alone is not going to stop Indonesia's forests disappearing at a rate of about 300 football fields an hour, according to TNC estimates.

TNC sustainable forest management specialist Benjamin Jarvis said only 1.1 million hectares of Indonesian forest were being logged according to FSC standards, or less than two percent of the land under logging concessions.

That's an improvement on a few years ago, but nowhere near enough to make a difference, Center for International Forestry Research scientist Herry Purnomo said.

"Certification is one of the most effective instruments to help stop forest degradation and destruction, but it's still far from enough to help save Indonesia's forests," he said.

-- Seeing REDD over illegal logging --

A report by a coalition including the BlueGreen Alliance and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) released in the United States this month found that 40 to 55 percent of Indonesia's timber is illegally harvested.

It warned that 98 percent of the archipelago's lowland forests could be gone by 2022.

What's at stake is not only the forests and their precious plants and animals, such as endangered Sumatran tigers and Javan rhinos.

According to RAN, carbon emissions from deforestation in Indonesia account for about five percent of global emissions, or more than all the cars, planes, buses and trains in the United States combined.

So the illegal trade is devastating species, undermining the legal timber industry and jeopardising UN-backed plans for a global market in carbon credits for avoided deforestation, known by its acronym REDD.

The market, which is likely to be a key part of any new international climate treaty, would see rich and polluting countries pay developing countries like Brazil and Indonesia to preserve their forests and the carbon they store.

But groups like Human Rights Watch, RAN and the BlueGreen Alliance say such plans are doomed to failure unless they address the problem of illegal logging.

"Otherwise, even the most well-intentioned plans would be undercut by demand-side forces and leakage of illegal timber products," the BlueGreen Alliance report said.

Little progress has been made in the fight against the timber barons since leaders of the Group of Eight, the biggest consumer countries, pledged to "tackle illegal logging" at their summit at Gleneagles in 2005.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently vowed to take on the "logging mafia" but analysts doubt he will confront the powerful networks of officials, security personnel and big business who are involved.

For every logger like Jaang, there are many more who are still working for the cukong, cashing in on growing world demand for cheap timber products.

BlueGreen Alliance report: http://www.bluegreenalliance.org/admin/publications/files/BGA-IndonesiaLogRpt-p7-Wells.pdf

Agence France Presse
Presi Mandari
Sunday, May 16, 2010

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