The soaring global demand for timber, driven in part by China’s economic growth, is making it increasingly tempting for timber companies to ignore the law when seeking new sources of wood. When they do not ask indigenous people’s permission for the use of their land or compensate them for it, illegal loggers jeopardize communities’ livelihoods, threaten traditional customs and values, and, of course, deprive them of the revenue gained from the sale timber.
No one knows this better than Frederick Sagisolo, chief of the Knasaimos people of Seremuk, in the Indonesian province of Papua, who gives a startling account of the plundering of his community’s land by illegal loggers. Despite being head of the Knasaimos tribal council, Sagisolo says he was not contacted by the company that logged his community’s forest. “Instead it did an illegal deal with one individual from our community, and this created many problems for us. But the company was backed by a local military officer, so what could we do?” The logging finally stopped in 2005, when the Indonesian government launched a major initiative against illegal logging, part of which targeted Papua.
Illegal logging can be fueled by problems that face many countries, including a lack of equitable law enforcement in scarcely populated areas and graft involving local officials and foreign companies. As a result of these and other issues, forests are being logged illegally in places as varied as Brazil and Estonia.
Despite President Bush’s initiative against illegal logging and many other efforts around the world, economic incentives to supply cheap and illegal timber seem to be increasing. If more isn’t done to curb illegal logging, we will continue seeing its effects crop up around the world, ranging from ecosystem destruction to increased damage from natural disasters.