Tackling illegal logging
Ahmad Maryudi, Yogyakarta Tue, 04/27/2010 Opinion
Illegal logging has long been identified as a prominent forest problem with detrimental impacts — ecologically, socially and economically.
It is now targeted by the Judicial Mafia Taskforce amid numerous controversial verdicts favoring the suspects (The Jakarta Post, April 19, 2010: “Taskforce sets sights on illegal logging mafia allegations”, also April 8, 2010: “SBY orders taskforce to tackle illegal logging”).
To tackle illegal logging, investigating those alleged to have been involved in the judicial process favoring the suspects is important.
The process nonetheless occurs after the damage has been done. Problems of illegal logging are extensive in that the country’s forest systems cannot effectively prevent illegal logging.
A closer look on “forest processes”, which might have contributed to favoring illegal activities, is therefore not less imperative than the former.
By definition, there are two forms of illegal logging. People might need not further explanation on timber poaching by unauthorized loggers, but they might raise their eyebrows knowing that illegal logging, as a matter of fact in our country, is often wrapped in legal processes that hence cannot easily be detected.
In general, management plans are set in place to ensure how much and where timber can be legally logged from the forests, but they are often abused.
For instance, some logging activities occur outside the approved compartments, or the actual harvest is beyond the set limits.
A prominent example is illegal logging by Adelin Lis’ companies, which were granted legal forest utilization licenses.
His forest management companies were found to be logging trees in protected areas in Mandailing and Batang Gadis National Park of North Sumatra, which both restrict logging activity.
As reports suggest, despite only securing an annual harvest limit of 50,000 cubic meters, its downstream industry processed nearly 1 million cubic meters.
In most cases, violence on the management plans should not be hard to detect nonetheless. It then becomes difficult to track down when the annual harvest limits are set and officially approved by forest authorities beyond the capacity of the forests to regenerate themselves.
It is not uncommon that forest officials conspire with forest companies to raise the harvest bars, allowing the companies to harvest more, of course illegally.
Technically, they are those who are appointed to check whether the management plans are sound enough, but field inspections are often insufficient, if not non-existent. Reports also suggest that legal harvest licenses are “on-sale” to undertake in illegal activities.
The message here is again that tackling down on illegal logging should also touch the governance system of the Forest Ministry. Models of licenses and approvals might not be best anymore.
Being objective, too many requirements and pre-conditions incurred to forest companies, on the one hand, create hospitable environments for corrupt officials to benefit from circumstances in which forest companies are no wish to comply with.
On the other hand, being burdened with formal and informal fees, the forest managers are likely to compensate to more harvests from the forests.
This becomes a vicious circle and all contributes to persistent illegal logging in the country.
There is an increasingly apparent need of simplified, but of course effective, surveillance systems on forest companies.
Approaches on independent assessments, which have been recently implemented, generate a glimpse of enthusiasm and optimism, but indeed have no guarantee as well.
Recently, the Forestry Ministry has exercised the implementation of regular inventory systems imposed on forest companies to monitor the forest condition from time to time.
It is an innovative experiment, but as said, this will burden the forest companies more.
Hence, this innovation should be followed with the removal of some overlapping, and ineffective requirements to limit people’s desire for compensation from the forests.
It is perhaps well-worth for forest companies practicing wise forest operation and management to experiment with incentive-based approaches.
The incentives can vary from having reduced financial obligations on harvesting timber from forests to a simpler bureaucracy processes, which certainly leads to lower management costs. Such lowered financial burdens should draw interest from managers.
The writer is a lecturer at the Forestry Faculty, Gadjah Mada University.