Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Heart Of Borneo ‘At Risk’ Over Illegal Logging

Heart Of Borneo 'At Risk' Over Illegal Logging

By James Ken

Bandar Seri Begawan - Illegal logging continues to be the major cause of deforestation and forest degradation in Southeast Asia. Although five per cent of the world's forests are located in this region, the World Bank estimates that Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) accounted for nearly 25 per cent of the global forest loss over the past decade.

In an effort to overcome the situation, Asean has called for national policies to be intensified and regional collaborations strengthened.
Uncontrolled illegal logging could harm the Heart of Borneo (HoB) project, an ambitious initiative to conserve the richness of the forests that was undertaken by Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Mr Hugh Blackett, a forestry consultant at the training workshop on "Timber Verification of Legality System" held at the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources yesterday, in an interview said, "The Heart of Borneo project can face an uphill task if illegal logging continues in the island of Borneo, especially in Indonesia.

"The Heart of Borneo project is an inter-government project supported by WWF. It's a very good and important idea because there is still a lot of forest cover in the Heart of Borneo and many wildlife habitats need to be conserved. It will require a lot of cooperation between governments particularly Malaysia and Indonesia."

Describing the problem of illegal logging in the region, Mr Blackett said, "Illegal logging happens in remote areas and it's difficult to exercise control. Therefore making money from harvesting timber is very easy and gives a quick return. A lot of people have taken advantage of weak government controls. Unfortunately, there are some instances of corruption being allow it to happen.

"If logging is uncontrolled, and people take out too much of timber (from the forests), it will destroy the forest environment, the animal habitat, erosion control and subsistence for local community, as well as the future access to raw materials in the timber industry," he said.

On countering illegal logging, he said, "NGOs specifically in Europe have been actively campaigning against people using tropical timber and demanding them to take a responsible attitude to ensure that the timber purchased is not from illegal logging. So there is a huge pressure to try to find ways on improving control in a country like Indonesia where there is a high incidence of illegal logging, making sure that the law is applied.

"Now in Europe, the governments' public procurement policies system has set up a standard to see that any purchase of timber for projects come from a responsible source thereby ensuring sustainable, managed forests. We have in existence a certification standard that comes from the forest timber certification council setting the standard for forest management."

About illegal logging at the borders, he said, "It can happen, and there are forest concessions at the border between Malaysia and Kalimantan and I have reports that there are companies doing cross border logging. A lot of wood is coming into Malaysia from Indonesia mainly across the borders of Sarawak and Kalimantan.

"The Malaysian government has accepted to cut down on the activities and it's very much reduced. It's very hard to quantify the volume of illegal trade of timber but it does seem that the cross border illegal trade between Malaysia and Indonesia has drastically reduced," he added.

"There has to be a high level of government cooperation and support to combat illegal cross border activities. However, in addition to Europe, North America and Japan, other big markets like China and India should also set standards for timber import to help reduce illegal logging."
He added, "It's very difficult to detect when timber goes to the mills whether the timber has come from legal sources. Technologies are being developed like timber tracking where details of trees are recorded and marked before they are felled. Therefore timber tracking offers one way of knowing where it comes from to determine whether it's under legal licence.
"Currently, there are technologies to help control the problem through record keeping in computerisation system," he added. -- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin 22nd July