Best of our wild blogs: 3 Feb 17

12 Feb (Sun) FREE Guided Herp Walk @ Bukit Timah
Herpetological Society of Singapore

The ruins on Sentosa and a rare chance to visit
The Long and Winding Road

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Shifting sand between Cambodia and Singapore: Why did lawyers get involved?

The staggering discrepancy in sand figures reported by Cambodia unravels the mixed feelings the Cambodian government holds towards the complete ban on the sand dredging industry and the negative results of this half-hearted ban.
Victoria Wah ASEAN Today 2 Feb 17;

Mother Nature, an environmental non-governmental organization, recently hired a Singaporean law firm Eugene Thuraisingam LLP to investigate irregularities in sand imports from Cambodia to Singapore.

Statutory boards in Singapore involved in the sand imports came under the firm’s scrutiny during the investigation. The information gathered by the firm could lead to a possible lawsuit against the Singaporean state although the legal firm has declined to elaborate further. Mother Nature founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson said, “Our goal is
that the mining and export of coastal sand from Cambodia is eventually regarded as too toxic by the Singapore government and that they are forced to stop getting involved.”

The Cambodian and Singaporean governments disagree on exactly how much sand has been imported from 2007 to 2015. The Cambodian government stated that a total of US$5.5 million worth of sand was exported to Singapore between this period while Singapore’s own import figures showed a startling figure of US$752 million, 137 times that of Cambodia’s import figure.

Singapore’s sand import data mirrored the data found on the U.N. Commodity Trade Statistics Database. The understated figure from the Cambodian government points to a rampant illegal sand trade that accounts for the remaining sand exports. If Singapore’s figures are correct, who are the Cambodian perpetrators of illegal trade?

Cambodian government firmly denies participation in the illegal sand trade

Dith Tina, spokesperson for the Cambodian Mines and Energy Ministry, has firmly denied any link between the disparate figures and the government’s involvement in any illegal sand trade. He said that the difference was the result of how the UN collects its information rather than any wrongdoing on the part of the Cambodian government.

It is difficult to pinpoint the Cambodian government as the perpetrator of the illegal sand trade when the government was the one that initiated the ban on sand exports. In 2009, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen banned the export of dredged river and marine sand from Cambodia. This ban was enacted to minimise the negative implications of sand dredging that fuelled the sand trade. The only exception to this ban was dredging sand that obstructed waterways.

It is also difficult to blame private companies in Cambodia that could be responsible for the illegal sand exports since the Cambodian government has vehemently insisted that it has completely eradicated unlawful sand dredging since the ban’s enactment. Ung Dipola, deputy director-general of the general department of mineral resources, said, “Until now, the illegal and anarchic sand dredging has been completely eliminated.”

Reports show otherwise despite the denial of illegal sand trade

Despite the government’s firm insistence that unlawful sand mining has been eliminated, reports tell a different story. There has been a 154% surge in government-issued fines for unauthorised sand dredging from 2015 to 2016 that indicates that illegal sand dredging was never completely eliminated by the government.

Furthermore, a 2016 report by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) found the Cambodian government had continued to supply licenses to sand miners despite the dredging ban. In fact, the Ministry had reportedly bypassed an auction process for licenses and had issued a whopping number of 84 licenses since the end of 2015.

Recently, Global Witness found links between Hun Sen’s family and acquaintances and sand-dredging licences for a four-kilometre stretch of the Mekong River. Hun Sen justified this dredging as being necessary to facilitate navigation, reduce flooding and decrease Mekong riverbank collapses. However, Gonzalez-Davidson disagreed, saying, “All the experts we asked said this (explanation) makes no sense.” It was more likely that the government welcomed dredging rather than condemn it.

It seems that the government is reluctant to end this lucrative sand trade due to the huge profits earned from issuing dredging licenses to companies and fining them thereafter. In 2015, the government earned a huge sum of US$ 7.7 million through licensing fees, royalties and fines. The lucrative profits earned from issuing licenses and fines deter the government from completely banning the sand export industry.

Implications of dredging that call for tighter licensing regulations

Failure to ban sand dredging entirely has negatively implicated communities whose livelihoods depend on the sea. Som Chandara, a Mother Nature activist, said, “(Dredging is) making a bad situation for the communities by polluting the water.” Dredging machines dump their waste directly into the river, polluting the water and killing marine life.

Fishermen’s livelihoods are threatened by the loss of marine life. Louk Pou, a fisherman on Koh Sralau Island, said that he used to earn more than US$50 per day fishing for crab before the dredging started. Since then, crab – as well as fish – stocks have declined and his daily income has dwindled to less than US$10. This has made it difficult for him to support his family.

The loss of marine life has also undermined food security for communities living near the sea. Fish that form a predominant food source for these locals have dwindled in numbers as a result of water pollution caused by dredging. The lack of food security and livelihoods has caused widespread resettlement.

More effort is needed to regulate the dredging industry. Dipola suggested, “Before we grant licenses, we have to study it, hold a public forum”. She added that licenses are not granted if they “affect(ed) the community or environment.” Regulations on issuing dredging licenses must be tightened to limit the negative implications of dredging.

Cambodian sand is helping Singapore to expand despite sand bans

Notwithstanding the implications of the sand trade on Cambodia, Cambodian sand has benefitted Singapore immensely. Following the limitations and bans on sand exports by Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia for environmental reasons, Cambodia has become one of Singapore’s main sand exporters. Singapore has been increasing in size thanks to Cambodian sand.

Singapore’s voracious demand for sand has inevitably drawn international concern for Cambodia’s ecosystem. Gonzalez-Davidson said, “we need to tell them (Singapore) that Cambodia is also not happy with seeing how Singapore is directly responsible for the destruction of one of our most precious assets.”

Singapore’s focus on polders will lessen its reliance on sand

There is some assurance that Singapore will limit its sand imports from Cambodia as it shifts its focus away from sand towards dikes. National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that the Singapore government was piloting a new reclamation technique called the polder development project. This project would use dikes rather than sand to expand its territory and thereby reduce Singapore’s reliance on Cambodian sand exports. Lessened reliance on sand exports would consequentially lessen the negative impacts on the communities and the ecosystem in Cambodia.

Being a world-class city, Singapore will not let its reputation be tainted by a legal controversy over sand, even if its reclamation needs are great. With the polder project beginning at the end of 2017, Singapore will be able to lessen or even remove its reliance on Cambodian sand in the future. Meanwhile, Cambodia continues to suffer from the negative effects of dredging as the government continues to waver in its decision to completely ban the lucrative sand trade.

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Chicken culling issue raises need for more awareness

Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Feb 17;

The recent culling of chickens by the authorities here highlights the constant tension between animal lovers and those who are less enamoured by them, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

"It's a very real issue. It's not just about chickens. It's about dogs, cats and pets in general," said Mr Tan.

"We live in close proximity... Many people are pet lovers but there are people who also don't like pets. We need to exercise mutual understanding and give and take."

He added that some members of the public could be uncomfortable with certain animals due to lack of information, and that more awareness is needed.

He was speaking at an Acres (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) event to rehome Rahayu, the endangered turtle.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) killed 24 free-roaming chickens in Sin Ming after residents made 20 noise complaints last year.

While some viewed the birds as a nuisance, others were upset to see them go.

The AVA said that Pasir Ris and Thomson residents had also complained last year about noise from free-ranging chickens; and that it would take action whenever it receives noise complaints.

Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC and Acres founder and chief executive officer Louis Ng said yesterday that instead of culling chickens, the authorities should look into other solutions, such as relocating the animals or putting them up for adoption.

"Ultimately, euthanasia is still the worst option," he said.

"Let's get an accurate sense of what's happening on the ground," he added, pointing out that 20 complaints could have come from one or two people calling repeatedly.

Editorial: Crying foul over Sin Ming fowl cull
Jonathan Roberts The New Paper 4 Feb 17;

I doubt if it's any fun being an urban chicken today. These creatures appear twitchily paranoid at the best of times, but now?

A few days ago, the authorities culled - or euthanised - chickens roaming around Thomson View and Blocks 452 to 454 at Sin Ming Avenue after Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority received 20 complaints from residents - mostly about noise.

National Parks Board is also considering a cull if there's a threat of interbreeding between these wild chickens and the native - and endangered - red junglefowl.

When it comes to protecting the endangered species, I hope there's also an active breeding programme beyond killing (humanely) amorous roosters from the wrong side of the tracks.

So why are people crying foul over the fowl? Especially considering the most consideration we usually give to chicken is choosing between original or crispy.

Part of it is the seeming lack of solutions. If there's a problem with wildlife encroaching on our urban world, death (euthanasia if you like) seems to be the only game in town.

And to be honest, I was not aware that chickens had reached pest status here.

Hence the questions of how hard is it to relocate chickens? The breed is not renowned for its homing ability.

The perception is that the cull was over noise more than any health or environmental issue.

It could be argued that if these wild chickens posed that much of a health issue, why were they not dealt with after the first complaint?

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng has also asked why the options are limited to one. He also added the vital question, how far were the complaints investigated?

There may have been 20 complaints but were they from 20 complainants, or merely one or two?

Even if that many complained, just as many residents, if not more, might have enjoyed having the chickens roam around.

After all, they keep to themselves and give a kampung vibe.

This is not to say the people living there did not have a problem with the noise. But was their grievance mediated in some way?

We have to have some balance and accept that other creatures live in our environment.

Frankly, I'm glad that some restraint has been applied to other supposedly "annoying" fauna, such as the otters.

Their return to our shores show how much healthy the environment is.

But if those who initially voiced concerns - aside from the owners of devoured koi on Sentosa - had their way, they would just be a memory by now.

We are fortunate enough to live in a city that still balances modernity with nature.

And while we are a small island and the ecosystem has to be kept in balance, we have to accept that with the greenery comes animals.

But if we are to continue on this path of a singular solution, I have 20 complaints about people talking in the cinema.

Who do I talk to about getting them seen to?

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Paper cups not an environmentally-friendly option here either: Experts

Steffi Koh Channel NewsAsia 2 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Given a choice between grabbing their caffeine fix in a plastic, foam or paper cup at a coffee shop, one in two here would pick paper as having the least negative impact on the environment, according to a survey of 1,000 respondents.

But they could be wrong.

In some respects, foam cups are less damaging to the environment than paper cups as they are made with fewer resources, experts told the Channel NewsAsia programme Trash Trail, which also conducted the survey on people's perceptions.

But what about the popular belief that paper cups, unlike foam, can be recycled? In reality, that is often not the case - at least in Singapore.

If you really want to reduce the environmental cost of your daily cuppa, however, the best way remains to bring your own mug or tumbler. Here are eight reasons why you should ditch the disposables:

1. Contrary to popular belief, used paper cups cannot be recycled here. One of the reasons is hygiene, according to one of Singapore’s largest paper recycling facilities, Sembcorp Tay Paper.

“In fact, you’ve got to pay me to dispose of (soiled cups),” said Mr Emmanuel Tay, Tay Paper’s commercial analyst.

But even if you properly washed those used cups before putting them in the recycle bin, Mr Tay said that he still would have to send paper cups to an overseas recycling facility.

He explained that only 10 per cent of the paper mills in Asia are able to process the laminated or wax linings that help make the cup water-resistant. None of them are in Singapore.

Boutique cup maker Mr Arun Kumar of Dillic Packaging also pointed out that the distinct recycling logo found on plastic lids and paper cup sleeves mean that only these components are recyclable, and not the entire cup itself.

2. Likewise, while technology to recycle Styrofoam cups exists, it is not readily available here.

A check with Singapore’s four appointed waste collection companies shows that they do not recycle Styrofoam or other disposable food packaging. This fact is reflected on the labels of recycling bins found around housing estates.

3. A paper cup is made out of raw materials five times the weight of that used for a foam cup, according to A*STAR scientist Dr Jonathan Low.

“What you have in a Styrofoam cup is some plastic materials with a lot of air bubbles in it,” said Dr Low.

According to him, a Styrofoam cup consumes less material across its life stages, from the extraction of raw materials to its manufacture and use.

4. Additionally, paper cups are usually made with virgin paper - entirely from tree pulp - rather than from recycled material, revealed one of Malaysia’s largest paper cup manufacturers, Malex Paper Products, which also supplies its products to Singapore.

Malex’s spokesperson Wern Tan explained that demand for recycled paper cups has not yet picked up. “And it’s pretty hard to find recycled paper that is food grade, and enough to make the paper cups,” he added.

5. To make 50 million paper cups a month, Malex has to keep its 25 machines running for 24 hours a day. Manufacturing foam cups actually consumes less water and energy.

A 2006 study by Dutch organisation TNO showed that it takes 20 per cent more fuel and nearly twice as much water to manufacture paper cups. Moreover, 30 per cent more fuel is needed to transport the raw material for paper cups.

6. But even though manufacturing foam cups is less taxing on the earth’s resources, they are still made of polystyrene, which secretes cancer-causing chemicals when in contact with heat, warned experts from the US’ Environmental Protection Agency. It also takes more than a million years to decompose.

Some cities, including Penang, New York and Toronto, have banned the use of Styrofoam packaging.

7. But not many food and drink shops here are feeling the need to offer more sustainable packaging options. This is largely because customers are not demanding it, according to environmental writer Jessica Cheam.

“I think people are so used to the convenience that the infrastructure provides,” she said, listing household rubbish chutes and efficient cleaners as factors in the slow take-up rate of sustainable disposable food packaging.

In 2016, the National Environment Agency announced that it would introduce “mandatory requirements” for businesses to manage packaging waste more sustainably within the next three to five years.

8. But some coffee houses do offer discounts as an incentive. Major coffee chains like Starbucks and Coffee Bean currently offer 50 cents off drinks when customers bring their own drink container.

And from now until Mar, 11 independent cafes will offer drink discounts of 50 cents, S$1 or 10 per cent off when customers bring their own tumblers - in a joint initiative with the programme Trash Trail.

They are A.R.C Coffee. Highlander Coffee, Sarnies, The Assembly Ground, Symmetry, Xiao Ya Tou, Strangers' Reunion, Curious Palette, Yellow Cup Coffee, Dapper Coffee, and Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee.

Watch the Trash Trail episode on disposable cups here. New episodes air on Mondays at 8pm. The series is part of the CNA Signatures belt showcasing innovative programmes.

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Rescued giant turtle sent home to Malaysia

SIAU MING EN Today Online 2 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — Given its slightly deformed shell, the Malaysian giant turtle called Rahayu was likely kept illegally as a pet in a confined space, before it was abandoned and found wandering in the Lim Chu Kang area in Singapore.

It was rescued by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

If it were to stay here longer, the endangered freshwater creature — which measures about 60cm to 70cm in length and weighs about 30kg — would remain in captivity and have less space to move around, further affecting its well-being.

After it is picked up by the Malaysian authorities, Rahayu will be released into a nature reserve in 

Speaking to the media, Acres founder Louis Ng said that there is a limit to the size and type of enclosure that the society can build for the turtle. Captivity will also alter its behaviour.

However, repatriating wild animals can also be difficult, such as the long periods spent liaising with the receiving parties as well as processing the necessary permits.

“In this case, we are very thankful that the Perhilitan in Malaysia (counterpart of the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore) has been very receptive and very responsive as well … We want to make sure that Rahayu doesn’t go back to Malaysia and ends up in another enclosure for the rest of her life,” Mr Ng added.

A member of the public sent the turtle to Acres after it was spotted crossing the road in the Lim Chu Kang area in October 2015.

A fish hook was also lodged in its mouth then, but that has since been removed.

Malaysian giant turtles — the largest species of freshwater turtles in South-east Asia — are listed as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

They are threatened by the meat trade, the demand in traditional Chinese medicine as well as the illegal pet trade.

Before Rahayu, Acres had previously sent Blue, a vervet monkey back to Zambia in 2004 and Asha, a rhesus macaque to India in 2006.

The society covered the costs of transporting these animals, including that for Rahayu on Thursday, but did not disclose the sum.

The majority of the more than 100 wild animals housed at the Acres Wildlife Rescue Centre near Choa Chu Kang are also waiting to be sent back into the wild in their native countries, including the star tortoises, pig-nosed turtles and green iguanas.

For now, the society is working with the relevant authorities to send the star tortoises back to India.

Singapore’s Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who helped move Rahayu into a transport crate on Thursday, said that while voluntary welfare organisations such as Acres try where possible to repatriate wildlife, the main concern is the illegal wildlife trade.

“I would call on the public … to at least put a stop to it on our end, by just not being participants in terms of collecting exotic pets,” Mr Tan added.

Rescued giant turtle sent back home to Malaysia
Vanessa Lim Channel NewsAsia 2 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: An endangered Malaysian giant turtle rescued in Singapore has been sent back to Malaysia to get a second chance at living in the wild, said the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) on Thursday (Feb 2).

The turtle, named Rahayu, was rescued by ACRES in October 2015 after it was found crossing a road in Lim Chu Kang with a fish hook lodged in its mouth. The hook has since been removed.

The 30kg turtle is the first live reptile to be repatriated by ACRES. It will be handed over to local authorities in Johor, and will be released in a protected nature reserve in the northern part of Malaysia.

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who helped transfer Rahayu into a crate for its journey to Malaysia, said the turtle was likely kept as a pet and abandoned.

“It is not easy to send these creatures home but the Malaysian Wildlife Department would be receiving Rahayu in Johor and will reintroduce her back into her world,” he said in a post on Facebook on Thursday.

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and ACRES chief executive and Nee Soon GRC MP, Louis Ng, helping to transfer Rahayu into a transport crate. (Photo: Tan Chuan-Jin's Facebook page)

Before repatriating an animal, ACRES has to determine if it is fit to be released into the wild and apply for permits to transport the animal across borders, said the non-profit organisation’s deputy chief executive, Kalai Balakrishnan. The whole process could take up to one-and-a-half months, he said.

"We need to work with the authorities in the country we're sending the animals back to. To negotiate how we want to send them back and whether the animal will be released eventually," said Mr Balakrishnan.

He said ACRES has seen an increase in the number of online advertisements selling illegal wildlife. Currently, there are no regulations governing the online sale of animals, although ACRES is pushing for a ban.

"People want to keep something different, something exotic. But these animals are smuggled in and you never know how they are smuggled in. The whole process is cruel so people need to think about how the animals come in here," said Mr Balakrishnan.

- CNA/cy

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Indonesia: Jakarta, Semarang on the brink of ecological disasters

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 2 Feb 17;

The people and the environment in Jakarta and Semarang are not resilient enough to withstand ecological disasters due to the impact of a series of reclamation projects in the cities, according to a recent study.

Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) researcher Henny Warsilah recently measured the resilience of three major coastal cities in Java: Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya.

The Paris I-Sorbonne University graduate concluded that out of the three cities, only Surabaya had built enough resilience, both environmentally and socially.

Jakarta and Semarang, she said, were not doing very well.

Semarang, the fourth largest city on Java after Jakarta, Surabaya and Bandung, has ongoing reclamation projects in the northern part of the city, which threaten to submerge entire neighborhoods in the next 20 years.

“Semarang is undergoing rapid expansion with reclamation, while it is predicted that the city will sink in the next 20 years.

The more it is expanded, the more land will subside because the region is a former volcanic eruption zone, and it is a swamp area. With the progression of the reclamation projects, the land is not strong enough to withstand the pressure,” said Henny.

As a coastal city, Semarang’s most pressing concerns are about water. In recent years, the impact of floods has multiplied due to the rising sea level, coastal erosion and land subsidence.

In 1995, tidal floods reached the city up to about 500 meters inland. Currently, high tide reaches points as far as 5 kilometers from the coast, even flooding the city’s historic colonial-era Kota Tua (old town).

Besides flooding, social problems have also started to escalate in the city due to increasing ecological pressure.

“Besides ecological destruction, social problems have started to arise. People with low-incomes have to dredge their land with plastic waste because they have no money. Therefore, plastic waste is all over the place because there are no landfills,” Henny said.

Jakarta, where large sections of the city are already below sea level, will also suffer from reclamation projects.

The controversial Jakarta Bay reclamation project is predicted to cause severe floods as it could hamper water flow from 13 rivers to the Jakarta Bay.

The reclamation project, which will develop 17 man-made islands, is also predicted to increase Jakarta’s ecological burden as it would attract an additional 600,000 people living on the islets. “Right now, North Jakarta’s land is already subsiding 10 centimeters per month. This will surely continue, and we will sink underwater in the future,” said Henny.

Despite opposition from environmental activists and fishing communities, Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama has persisted with the project, saying that it will solve land problems in the city and will profit the administration.

“North Jakarta is more severe as there are 17,000 fisherfolk who are threatened with being evicted and marginalized. It’s because the infrastructure development does not coincide with the development of people’s welfare,” said Henny.

She said that when reclamation was planned, the fisherfolk affected by the project should have been involved in the discussion. “But that was not the case. In the end, people felt marginalized. They can no longer fish because of the construction of the islets,” Henny said.

Meanwhile, the Surabaya administration has been doing the opposite, she said. “Surabaya should be the example [of how to build a resilient city] because its reclamation project doesn’t evict people. The people were only relocated 200 to 300 meters from the shore line,” Henny said, citing the reclamation project in Kenjeran, North Surabaya.

She said the reclamation project made sure that people living in the fishing village of Kenjeran became the center of the development.

“Their houses were painted. The people there were not marginalized. Instead, they were incorporated in the development process,” Henny said.

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Indonesia: Poor Ethics and Governance Result in Unsustainable Forest Practices -- Activist

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 2 Feb 17;

Jakarta. Being home to the third largest rainforest in the world, Indonesia has always been watched closely by environmental groups concerned over deforestation.

Massive forest clearing in various parts of the country has been responsible for critical watershed conditions, major declines in endemic wildlife populations and habitat degradation.

According to United States-based environmental group Mighty Earth, Papua is the latest victim of unsustainable forest management practices after rampant deforestation left very few remaining trees in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Forest burning in Papua came into the spotlight last year when South Korean company Korindo cleared thousands of hectares of forest for palm oil concessions.

"First, the forest concessions in Sumatra were exploited. Then it moved to Kalimantan – all gone. Then a number of forest concessions moved to the eastern side of Indonesia, particularly Papua, with some measuring up to a million hectares,"

Bustar Maitar, the activist group's director for Southeast Asia, said on Wednesday (01/02).

His statement came up during a discussion on timber certification and its importance by the Dr. Sjahrir Foundation, which supports education, social welfare and the environment.

Bustar said the lack of urgency with the national mandatory timber legality assurance system, known as SVLK, is mainly due to a lack of ethics by industry players and poor governance by the authorities.

"It's a question of ethics when it comes to implementing policies [such as the SVLK] introduced by the government, as well as the environmental prerequisites [set by the certification]," he explained.

The activist added that Indonesian industry players should avoid the mindset that commodity certifications were being pushed by international demand to make the country uncompetitive in the global market.

"This might be true, but if we want to compete [in the global market], we must improve our standards. It would not just be for the global market, but it is to improve the value of our timber and to add to international recognition," Bustar said.

According to the Association of Indonesia Forest Concession Holders, the export volume of legal timber has been increasing every year, with 17.46 million tons recorded in 2016 from 15.73 million in the previous year.

However, the domestic market shows is more likely to source illegal timber due to a lack of education and the mindset Bustar mentioned.

"If it's not certified, it should be illegal," he said.

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