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Indonesia to tighten logging laws

The Javan rhino one of the rarest animals in the world is native to Indonesia's dwindling rainforests.
The Javan rhino one of the rarest animals in the world is native to Indonesia's dwindling rainforests.  

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia has announced it will tighten its laws on forest exploitation in order to curb illegal logging, but the changes will not take place until 2003.

By that time, unless a company with a logging concession can demonstrate sustainable forest management it will lose its license.

The government says it is putting legislation in place that will give power to an independent institution that will issue, evaluate and monitor license holders.

Although Indonesia has 10-percent of the world's tropical forests and the largest areas outside of Brazil, the rate of destruction has been unparalleled, often with government approval.

Indonesia has also seen some of the world's worst forest fires, the product of rampant illegal logging as well as slash and burn agriculture, which has gone unchecked in the face of economic upheaval and political instability.

Sustainable logging or conserved forest?

The announcement is seen by environmentalists as a move in the right direction, as the government has been under constant criticism for its failure to control illegal logging in the past.

Indiscriminate logging and log theft, as well collusion between dishonest officials and timber companies are just some of the reasons behind the new legislation.

Although the region's demand for tropical hardwood is still high, and the demands of a popluation of 210 million on the land is even higher, Indonesia still has the world's largest tracts of forest, mainly in the areas of Borneo, Sumatra and Irian Jaya.

Yet a lack of land management, protection against fire and reforestation has left Indonesia's forests a shadow of their former selves.

The World Bank says Indonesia has lost about 1.5 million hectares of forests on average each year between 1985 and 1997.

By the beginning of 2000, the country's forests had been reduced to a mere 20 million hectares, down from pre-1985 levels of nearly 43 million hectares.

In October the government's move to ban log exports was one of its first in a campaign to combat the rampant over-logging of its tropical rainforests resources.

Minister of Forestry Mohamad Prakosa told Reuters that there were around 375 companies that currently hold licenses for logging in Indonesia.

However, many more have cut down trees illegally and ignore regulations that encourage forest sustainability and conservation, such as not chopping down young trees or encroaching on protected areas.

In the late 1990s forest fires repeatedly hit the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, where large tracts of forest remain producing a haze that effected large areas of Southeast Asia.

These disasters also coincided with Indonesia's economic collapse that has left the government dependent on foreign aid to balance its budget. Environmentalists say illegal logging also increased after the government, under an agreement with the International Monetary Fund in 1998, had to reduce a hefty 200 percent tax on log exports to 10 percent by the end of 2000.


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