Friday, 24 April 2009

Lampung's national park being deforested at alarming rate

Oyos Saroso H.N. , The Jakarta Post , Bandarlampung | Fri, 04/24/2009

Efforts to wipe out illegal logging in the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (TNBBS) have been like adding salt to the sea. Despite routine patrols by forest rangers, illegal logging has prevailed unabated, evidenced by the number of large trucks seen carrying illegal timber unimpeded along the Trans-Sumatra highway and on the ferry to Java.

The trucks don't carry run-of-the-mill timber, but choice cuts including meranti, tenam and kruing, believed to have originated from the TNBBS.

"There are no other forests or community-based farms where tenam, kruing or meranti grow apart from TNBBS," Executive director of the Lampung chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Hendrawan said.

The illegally logged timber from TNBBS is taken out of the forest by one of two ways: By cutting trees into 3.5 to 4-meter long logs and drifting them down the river, where, once they arrive at a particular point, they are carried by trucks to sawmills; or by sawing the logs into planks and beams in the forest. This method is called the moving sawmill. The distance between the logging site and the sawmill is between 30 to 50 meters from the highway bisecting the national park.

To evade arrest, thieves attach used cans to strings as a makeshift alarm system to alert their colleagues in the presence of the authorities.

The operations of illegal loggers stopped, briefly, after the West Lampung Military Command and TNBBS conducted constant raids. Timber financiers and sawmills in West Lampung became afraid to operate and stern measures were meted out to recalcitrant sawmill owners, on the grounds they were processing illegal timber.

Former West Lampung Military Command Chief Albar Tanjung said large volumes of illegally felled trees were still scattered in the TNBBS.

"The military and local residents once took out thousands of cubic meters of stolen timber from the TNBBS. The cost to carry them out of the forest is very high, especially as the locations can be dozens of kilometers from the road," the retired commander, who is now a member of the public order police unit of the Lampung provincial administration, said.

Walhi activist Mukri Friatna said widespread illegal logging at the national park was due to the arbitrary issuance of sawmill permitsby the West Lampung regency administration and the local forestry office.

"Requirements to open a sawmill are actually very difficult, because the business owner must have a timber farm. In reality, many sawmill owners do not farms. They are certain to have timber taken from the national park, because production forests no longer exist in Lampung."

Walhi data shows illegal logging in TNBBS is focused in Bengkunat. Two key suspects - Engkon and Syirwan - both sawmill owners, were once caught and detained, but were freed soon after.

In Bengkunat, authorities have identified seven major routes criss-crossing limited production forests and the Bengkunat protected forest areas, which are used by operators to transport illegal timber, usually on the back of four-wheel-drive trucks, carts and motorcycles (aside from the river).

An average of six cubic meters of timber is transported through the area daily.

According to Mukri, logs are drifted to Way Pintau and later brought ashore at temporary timber collection sites located on the border of production and protected forests. From there, they are carried by four-wheel-drive trucks to Talang Sukadi.

A four-wheel-drive truck can make up to 10 trips to a sawmill daily.

There are six forest posts in Lampung used to inspect forest products.

They are supposed to inspect documents for forest products and impound illegally harvested timber. However, illegal timber from the national park is still transported to Java with ease.

Besides illegal logging, forest conversion is also growing at an alarming rate in the TNBBS. Images captured by a European Union satellite show 52,000 hectares, or 16 percent of the park's area, are damaged. Some 12,500 squatter families dwell inside the park. Sekincau is the worst-affected area.