Malaysia: Illegal logging a threat to prized timber, group says

Illegal logging a threat to prized timber, group says

Source: Reuters, 19 August 2004

Kuala Lumpur (Reuters) — Trade in a valuable tropical timber used in everything from picture frames to billiard cues needs greater control to limit habitat destruction and prevent overharvesting, an environment group said on Thursday.

TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, said illegal harvesting of Ramin trees was threatening the future trade of the species and damaging fragile forest areas home to other plants and animals.

Ramin is extensively harvested in Indonesia and Malaysia and some shipments go through Singapore. The timber is much sought after in the furniture trade because of its lightness, straight grain and blond colour. Despite its popularity, few consumers know its name.

“Our main concern with the legal Ramin trade is that production remains sustainable. Legal trade from Indonesia is sustainable but illegal trade tips the balance,” said Chen Hin Keong, senior forest trade adviser for TRAFFIC in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

“Our concern is the wider concern about the logging industry,” Chen said.

“Ramin is just symptomatic. What we would like to see is governments enforcing their own legal controls to protect and manage their forests. This is not happening consistently enough.”

The Environmental Investigation Agency, an independent organisation based in Britain and the United States, says Ramin species are classified as vulnerable.

Chen said TRAFFIC had no figures on the size of the illegal trade in Ramin but said it was driven by demand for the timber, its high value on the open market, legal loopholes and weakness in some levels of government to enforce laws.

This was particularly the case in Indonesia where officials find it tough to track timber logged on vast areas of private land or on state land where timber companies have been given concessions to log forests. 

Ramin is typically found in freshwater and peat swamp forests, which are sometimes drained to log the timber and to convert the land.

This dries out the bogs, which can burn for months if set alight, creating choking smoke clouds that can drift into neighbouring countries.

The Environmental Investigation Agency says top export markets for Indonesian Ramin are Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States, Italy and Britain. Prices vary from $600 per cubic metre for sawn Ramin to $1,200 per cubic metre for moulded Ramin.

The agency said the total volume of Ramin logged had dropped sharply since the 1980s, showing that the timber was becoming harder to find.

Chen said it was crucial that Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia shared intelligence on illegal shipments much faster. At present the response time was too slow.


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