Indonesia: Park Rangers Seize Ill-Gotten Wood in East Kalimantan

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 29 Jun 13;

Officials in East Kalimantan have seized 20 cubic meters of a rare and highly prized tropical hardwood logged from inside the Kutai National Park, highlighting what they say is a losing battle against illegal loggers.

Hernowo Supriyanto, the head of the park’s management, said on Friday that the seizures were made by forest rangers on Wednesday.

He said that in addition to the hauls of Borneo ironwood, five cubic meters of which were found earlier on Friday, the rangers also confiscated a chainsaw, a motorcycle and two tents believed to have been used by the loggers.

Hernowo said the fact that the loggers had managed to cut down so many of the slow-growing trees underscored the point that park rangers were underfunded and undermanned in cracking down on illegal logging, even within an ostensibly protected national park.

“We only have 23 forest rangers who are helped by a corps of 45 volunteers, and they’re responsible for patrolling the entire 200,000 hectares of the national park,” he said.

“And even if the volunteers find illegal loggers, they’re not allowed to arrest them unless they have a park ranger with them. So we’re really badly short of manpower.”

Hernowo said that the Borneo ironwood tree, known locally as ulin, was the single most targeted kind of tree in the park, thanks to high demand for it in East Asia, where it is typically smuggled by way of Malaysia.

The wood, described as one of the densest and most durable types of timber in the world, typically sells for around $2,000 per cubic meter abroad, but is banned for export by the Indonesian government.

By comparison, ramin, another tropical hardwood and the most valuable commercial tree species allowed for export by Indonesia, sells for around $1,000 per cubic meter.

Ulin is virtually depleted in Malaysia, while logging in Indonesia is restricted to trees with a diameter less than 60 centimeters.

Hernowo said the illegal loggers in Indonesia would only get around Rp 8 million ($800) per cubic meter of ulin, but that this had become such a lucrative trade for them that they had built an extensive network of roads, bridges and campsites in the national park to ship out the timber more easily.

He said one of the main factors allowing the practice to persist was the fact that some 65,000 people still lived within the park’s borders. With such a heavy human presence, the incidence of forestry crimes was bound to be high, he said.

He added that programs aimed at getting the residents to take up other activities, including growing oil palms, had so far proven less than effective.