Indonesia — The sound of chain saws was very load. Mustarmin, 37, and his four colleagues immediately scampered away from a big tree as it crashed into small trees around it. After a few moments, the loggers returned to work, finding other big trees to fell. “After felling large trees, we’ll cut them into smaller pieces to make it easier to take them out of the dense forest,” he said.
Heavy rain has not discouraged the illegal loggers from felling trees in the Bukit (Hill) Soeharto forest in Kutai Kartanegara regency, East Kalimantan. The condition is perfect for eluding forest rangers. “The heavier it rains, the safer we are from being caught,” said Mustarmin.
Another effective way used by illegal loggers is to fell trees far from residential areas where it is easy to escape the attention of forest rangers.
He said that the illegal timber trade was promising because there was hardly any overhead and the price of timber was high. One cubic meter of legally felled timber can reach Rp 1.5 million (US$150). “We sell illegal timber for Rp 1.2 million at the most,” said Mustarmin.
The forest has not only been damaged by illegal logging, but also by land clearance by residents wanting to grow secondary crops and banana trees. Only tall grass can be found along the main road, except for a few trees that have been spared the axe.
The 61,860-hectare Bukit Soeharto forest is located along the main highway between Balikpapan, Samarinda and Kutai Kartanegara. The forest is also a research site for Mulawarman University’s forestry school.
However, its gradually being deforested. Logs are scattered on the roadside. New trees, 25 cm in diameter, which previously lined the road, have been hacked down.
Forest destruction and illegal logging in East Kalimantan have been categorized as alarming. The East Kalimantan Police seized 18,600 cubic meters of timber and handled 30 illegal logging cases in 2004. They probed 34 such cases in 2003.
In one case in West Kutai in early October 2005, 30,000 cubic meters, or 6,575 logs, were seized by the East Kalimantan Military Command. The police have named three timber financiers from East Kalimantan as suspects.
The executive director of the East Kalimantan Forum for the Environment (Walhi), Syafruddin, said the Bukit Soeharto forest was in a dismal state, and hardly represented the gateway to the province.
Besides damage from rampant illegal logging and land clearance, forest destruction in the area is also caused by mining activities.
“In the dry season, residents clear land with fire. This has gone on unabated,” he said.
He noted that around 85 percent of the forested area had been damaged and a further 15 percent was in an alarming state. He claimed that the government did not realize that the floods in Samarinda and Kutai Kartanegara were due to deforestation.
He said the government and police should be held responsibility for the matter, because the conservation forest is overseen by the central government.
The central government, provincial administration and the police appear to be making no attempt to protect the forest, since deforestation is still taking place at an alarming rate.