One of our readers recently wrote in saying “I would like to hear more about the logging practices and implication toward the rainforest.” We have no wish to lecture and have tried to make our blogs stories about life here in Borneo rather than fact-filled documents. However, because logging is such a big issue for us, we reasoned more people may be interested to learn more about the how and whys of logging. So here goes: Logging takes many forms and differs in the regions involved; there are good and bad examples of timber harvesting. We accept that controlled logging is a less damaging land use than mining or clear cutting for oil palm plantation establishment, and also that the potential for sustainable, low-impact forestry exists. For that to occur however, there needs to be:

1) A market for sustainably harvested wood

2) The timber company willing to manage its forest concession with long term goals in mind, not just short term profits.

3) Good law enforcement.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has set up an international labelling scheme to oversee all these processes. All forest products carrying the FSC logo have been independently certified as coming from sustainably-managed forests that meet the internationally recognized “FSC Principles and Criteria of Forest Stewardship” which include environmental and social responsibility. Sadly, FSC forests are few and far between – there are none in Central Kalimantan where we are based and only five forest areas, in the whole of Indonesia, have certification.

In most places where logging occurs, the largest trees, trees on which orangutans and other wildlife depend, are removed. As each tree falls it flattens others. Roads and camps do further damage. And that’s in a legal logging concession!

An estimated 73-88 % of all timber logged in Indonesia is illegal. With Asian, European and North American markets being the major recipients of illegally logged wood products . Illegal logging occurs everywhere, it is indiscriminate and is a perennial problem for Indonesian forest managers. A survey in the year 2000 found illegal logging inside all of Indonesia’s national parks.

The illegal logging that the Orangutan Foundation has experienced follows a process where an area of forest is surveyed for valuable trees. This is known as "cruising". Once a site with good potential is selected, teams of men are sent in. They establish a camp and begin felling the trees identified on the survey. The fallen trees are cut into logs of approximately 4m lengths.

To extract the logs, many kilometres of railways are built, each one using hundreds of trees and breaking the forest canopy. The logs are moved down wooden railways to a river, stream or canal (illegal logging canals drain peat swamps, drastically increasing the risk of fire) where they are floated to a larger river. Once the logs reach a large river they are joined together and towed to market behind boats. Sometimes, if there is dry ground, the logs are lifted straight into trucks and driven away. Once at a port or large town, a 'buyer' or dealer usually purchases the logs before processing them. He will pay off the loggers on the basis of species type and volume. Valuable timber species will be loaded onto ships or barges for exporting outside of the province and other less valuable timber trees are used locally, for instance in house construction. Logging barons have made millions of dollars from illegal logging.

Guard post

Guard post in Tanjung Puting National Park

I am proud to say the Orangutan Foundation has had great success in tackling illegal logging and the key to this has been the building of guard posts on rivers. These posts deny loggers access to the rivers which are used to float the logs out – if you can stop people getting in, you can stop the wood coming out. The posts also act as bases from where we can patrol a much larger area of forest.

We are aware the problem will never go away entirely because the trees are so valuable. The temptation to log will always be there. We have rangers in our network of guard posts monitoring the reserves to prevent illegal activities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is expensive and labour intensive, but it works and if this is what it takes to save the forest and orangutans then this is what will shall continue to do.

The Last stand of the orangutan - State of emergency: Illegal logging, fire and palm oil in Indonesia's national parks. Is an interesting and informative report by UNEP and is well worth having a look at.

Sorry for the lack of photos - here's a few to lighten this post!


Kusasi adult male orangutan TPNP

Infant orangutan high in tree