In the news – government efforts to curb illegal logging

A weekly news roundup by Lena Buell, RECOFTC Assistant Communications Officer. RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests does not necessarily endorse the content of the news, nor is it our official position.

This week, we’ve seen a number of encouraging examples of governments working harder to crack down on illegal logging. While much is still to be done, it’s heartening to see officials enforcing stricter regulations.

In Vietnam, forest management officials met this week to discuss ways to curb rampant illegal logging activity in the country and across its borders. Earlier this month, forest managers apprehended 15 train coaches carrying rare timber between the South and North, and in a separate event an official from central Nghe An Province’s Forest Management Unit was charged with abetting the transport of illegal timber between districts–an endeavor that unfortunately resulted in an accident killing 10 people and injuring four others. At the meeting, a representative from the Ministry of Public Security said that some forest managers assisted in forest destruction due to low and insufficient salaries, and that salaries should be adjusted to lower the incentives associated with illegal activities.

Forest managers also pledged to improve border processing, including the addition of compulsory certificates for travel across the Vietnamese border — though one can see how this might leave room for corruption on an already fraught border. Encouragingly, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development noted that the government would use ministry funds to support individuals and organizations working to curb further illegal deforestation.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the central government is overturning a timber clearing permit granted in the Leuser ecosystem area of Aceh Province by its Governor in August, 2011, after the May issuance of a Presidential Instruction banning new permits on the clearing of primary forests and peat lands. The Jakarta Post reports the government will “seek to impose sanctions on those responsible for the signing of the illegal approval,” which allows for the clearing of 1,605 hectares of peat land into palm oil plantations. It may even raise criminal charges against the company, PT Kallista Alam, which is accused of clearing the peat land even before being granted a permit to do so.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that local people are devastated by the Governor’s actions:

“Why would he agree to this?” said Ibduh, a 50-year village chief, days after filing a criminal complaint against Aceh Gov. Irwandi Yusuf.

“It’s not just about the animals,” he said, men around him nodding. “Us, too. Our lives are ruined if this goes through.”

Unfortunately, data collected by watchdog groups indicate PT Kallista Alam began clearing the land as early as January 2010 – with much of the forest already cleared by October 2010.  Though this government action might come too late to save the forestland, it represents a key evolution in political will to curb deforestation in a country losing about 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of forest a year.

Steps like these taken in Vietnam and Indonesia give us hope for the political will of governments to actually enforce forest regulations and combat illegal deforestation and corruption within their borders.

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