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Environmental, Campaign & Website News > Teak poachers are killing off great forests of Indonesia

Teak poachers are killing off great forests of Indonesia

Date : 29th July 2002, Source : Seattle Times

Copyright 2002 The Seattle Times Company
Nation & World: Friday, July 06, 2002

Teak poachers are killing off great forests of Indonesia

By Edward A. Gargan

BANGSRI, Indonesia - The last of central Java's great teakwood forests ends up in places like this, a place filled with the whine of buzz saws and the burr of electric sanders, a place like Abdul Jambari's garden-furniture workshop.

"This is for export," Jambari says, stroking the finely polished arm of an auburn-grained folding chair. "It's the best teak, what we call class A." And because his order book is full, a month or two from now, for about $100, Jambari's chair will sit on a patio or deck somewhere in the United States or Europe.

But that chair and the 4,000 others that are part of Jambari's latest export shipment have left behind a swath of utter devastation, one of thousands that afflict this archipelago and spell the end of the majestic forests that once blanketed Indonesia. Their disappearance also means the extinction of innumerable animal and plant species indigenous to this country.

"We are facing a cataclysm," said Togu Manurung, the director of Forest Watch Indonesia, an environmental organization. The tropical forests of Indonesia, one-tenth of the world's total, have fallen victim in part to the virtual collapse of political authority in this southeast Asian nation of a thousand islands and more than 200 million people. The toppling three years ago of the regime of President Suharto, a close U.S. ally whose three-decade rule often ruthlessly imposed order, has been followed by widespread violent upheaval, including multiple secessionist movements. In this chaotic atmosphere, illegal logging has gone unchecked.

In an unpublished report, the World Bank found that all the lowland forests in one of the country's largest islands, Sumatra ("forest that is usually the richest source of timber and which carries the highest biodiversity") will be extinct before 2005, and in Kalimantan, the island formerly known as Borneo, by 2010. Swamp forests, according to the report, will disappear five years later. In the past decade, the rate of Indonesia's deforestation has accelerated from 2.47 million acres annually, to 4.2 million acres.

Based on an analysis of satellite photos of Indonesia's forests, the report, written by Derek Holmes, a consultant to the World Bank, contends that unless the government acts immediately to stop rampant illegal logging, "the only extensive forests that will remain in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi in the second decade of the new millennium will be the low-stature forests of the mountains."

For people like Manurung, there is little evidence that the government, in disarray over the impending impeachment of President Abdurrahman Wahid and beset by waves of bloody sectarian and ethnic conflict, is capable of slowing the destruction of the forests.

"Illegal logging is going on everywhere," he said. "Lots of people are involved. Lots of these people have connections - high-ranking officials, members of parliament, the army, police, local officials."

Even national parks are being logged at a frenetic pace. On Kalimantan, the Tanjung Puting National Park, designated by the United Nations as a "Biosphere Reserve," a term bestowed on lands of exceptional plant and animal diversity, is being systematically and illegally logged, according to reports by Forest Watch and another environmental group, Telepak Indonesia, as well as Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry and Estate Crops.

Suripto, the former secretary general of the forestry ministry (like many Indonesians, he goes by only one name) charged last year that lumber companies and sawmills owned by a member of parliament were illegally processing ramin logs, the most valuable tree in the national park whose blond, straight-grained wood is used extensively in furniture, wood moldings, blinds and pool cues. Despite his findings, which followed an extensive investigation, the logging has continued and the member of parliament, Abdul Raysid, remains untouched by the law. He did not respond to repeated messages left at his office at the Tanjung Lingga Group, his logging and lumber-processing company.

So extensive is Raysid's influence in the area that the first chairman of a commission intended to oversee the management and conservation of the Tanjung Puting National Park was Raysid's brother.

"You must understand that people like Raysid are like Robin Hood in their localities," said Manurung, of Forest Watch. "They put a lot of money into their communities, and they have a lot of support from local people. So when government investigators, or investigators from groups like ours, go to the park to check on logging, there are gangs that try to intimidate us. Some people have been beaten up."

Most of the timber plundered from the national park and from Indonesia's other forests winds up in China or Europe, as well as the United States, according to environmental groups here.

In Bangsri, a nub of land protruding from the northern rim of central Java, local officials maintain that a breakdown of law and authority has fueled the surge in illegal logging, and with it, the end of the forests here. A battered two-lane macadam road meanders over hills and into valleys, past scrub land, tentative fields of corn and vast scars of rust-colored earth. Everywhere, stumps of what were once towering teak trees pepper the landscape.

"In 1999, this was all forest," said Rahmat Wijaya, the district manager for the state logging company, Perhutani, his hand sweeping across a barren vista stretching toward distant hills. "That year, thousands of people came and cut down the trees, local people and people from outside, both. The last tree was taken in November 2000. There was nothing we could do."

Private logging was not permitted in Bangsri, Wijaya said, only managed logging by the state company. But Suharto was compelled by mass protests to step down in May 1998, and with him went the authoritarian regime that had kept everyone in line. Under Suharto, logging was big business, but it was a business confined to the president's cronies, particularly Mohamad "Bob" Hasan, who was granted the most extensive logging concessions in the country. Hasan is now in prison for corruption, and the collapse of the Suharto regime was soon followed by a huge upsurge in illegal logging.

In one field, Wijaya pointed to motley rows of 4-foot-high broad-leaf teak saplings. "We have never tried to replant teak trees before," he explained, "but we are trying now. This is the first time. It takes 60 years to grow a teak tree. I will not be here when these are grown, if they survive."

Not far from where the teak forests used to be, H.M. Sugito sat, somewhat disconsolately, on a massive mahogany log at his lumber yard. "It's true," he said, surveying piles of teak logs and a scattering of 8-footlong mahogany tree trunks. "We have no more forests here. They're all gone. So now, I have to get my logs from elsewhere, from other places in Indonesia."

Asked if the teak logs in his roadside yard were legally cut, he shrugged. "When people bring logs here, we buy them," he said, a price list for his logs dangling from his fingers. "Why ask questions?"

At his yard, a teak log slightly over 6 feetlong and a foot in diameter sells for $290; the huge mahogany logs, 8 feetlong and nearly 3 feet in width, go for $445.

To Manurung of Forest Watch, such practices explain why his country's forests are vanishing. "You have to remember that the total capacity of the wood-processing industry and the pulp and paper processing industry is 80 million cubic meters," said. "Legal logging produces 17 million cubic meters. So you can see that there is a huge gap between supply and demand. And that gap is made up from illegal logging."


Copyright 2002 The Seattle Times Company

Nation & World: Friday, July 06, 2002
Official locked horns with big timber and lost

By Uli Schmetzer
Chicago Tribune

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Suripto's troubles began after he compiled a report accusing Indonesia's largest timber conglomerate of "under-reporting" the kind of deliberate forest fires that threaten to smother Southeast Asia under another blanket of haze this summer.

After submitting his report, Suripto was fired as secretary general of Indonesia's Forestry Department. Worse, he was arrested and held for 24 hours. Now he is charged with revealing state secrets.

All Suripto intended, he says, was to crush the huge timber companies that operate like organized-crime syndicates systematically destroying Indonesia's vast, resource-rich rain forests. On top of that, he alleges, the very people supposed to protect the forests - police, army and politicians - are involved in lucrative but illicit logging and plantation projects.

Suripto is not the first to fall in sporadic efforts by crusaders to curb the rape of one of Earth's last natural parks, endowed with rare wildlife, perhaps the most famous being the orangutan.

In response to vocal international protests, Baharuddin Lopa, Indonesia's minister for law and human rights, recently announced that the government is organizing yet another "police and army" crusade to stop illegal logging. He said Indonesia is losing $4 billion as the result of illicit timber activities.

Previous crusades have not been effective. Environmentalists describe them as publicity stunts. Thugs attached to illegal logging operations make short shrift with those who interfere.

The frenzy to clear forest land, by large companies as well as small-time squatters, was at its worst in 1997 when 250,000 acres of forest were burning. The billowing clouds of smoke blocked out the sun for weeks as far as Manila and up the Gulf of Thailan.

Instead of wasting time with the tentacles of the legal and illegal timber industry, Suripto went for the leader of the pack, Baripto Pasific Timber and its four subsidiaries that dominate Indonesia's lucrative timber industry.

Their owner is ethnic Chinese billionaire Prajogo Pangestu, a Suharto crony believed to be living in Boston.

Suripto's zeal may have been his undoing. Certain government officials argue that going after Pangestu might send the wrong signal to other ethnic Chinese tycoons who have invested most of their money abroad and are being courted to bring it back into Indonesia, a country badly in need of funds.

Suripto formerly was second in charge at the government intelligence agency BAKIN. He was a key witness in the trial of Indonesian Mohamad "Bob" Hasan, another timber king now serving a 12-year jail sentence for fraud. In his forestry report, which has since vanished into the corridors of the government, Suripto compiled data he says show the timber conglomerate was vastly overstating the land it was reforesting. The companies thus obtained millions of dollars in government and international funds for reforestation projects on the very land they cleared to sell the timber - a double profit whammy.

Baripto Pasific Timber also failed to pay about $300 million in taxes that are calculated on the amount of timber logged. The scam was to declare fewer logs. Local politicians, the army and police turned a blind eye or were paid off.

Ever since Suripto's firing, rumors have circulated that he and a former forestry official, also dismissed, were fired because of their own involvement in illicit logging allegedly masterminded by the army.

Copyright 2002 The Seattle Times Company


Jennifer Krill
Old Growth Campaigner
Rainforest Action Network
415/398-4404 x. 328

Document last updated on Wednesday 01 August 2018

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