Dear Sherri Your point about using illegally felled wood is a good one and is something we have debated at length. There are essentially three options when dealing with illegal loggers:
1. Evict them and thus the fallen wood is left behind 2. Evict them and render the wood useless by sawing it into unusable pieces that can't be used. 3. Arrest and process the loggers. After their trial the timber, which is classed as evidence, can then be auctioned.
Option three is by far and away the best. Wood bought at a Police auction is transparently 'clean' and could be used for a good purpose. Unfortunately, this option requires full police involvement and happens infrequently. Our staff have general powers of "citizens arrest" but that isn't enough. The Police really need to be there at the time of the arrest but, not un-understandably, they are frequently reluctant to press charges against small time loggers who, after all, are just local people. Also, the wood needs to be sold, not given away, as the Police need the proceeds to cover the cost of the trial.
What we find - illegal logging raft
Option one is the worst, though this was the strategy we had to use when we were overwhelmed by illegal logging a few years ago. While the wood remains in the forest, someone will be tempted to get it out. Being hardwood the timber remains useable for years after being felled but there is no way either we or the Government could use it. It would appear we were either profiting from the illegal logger's efforts or, bizarrely, even robbing them. In the local context, where arguably double standards apply, we have to be whiter than white. We simply could not use illegal felled wood directly without someone holding it against us.
Cutting the wood into unusable pieces with police support
Option two is the method most commonly used. By chopping up the wood, the logger's efforts are in vain, resulting in a net loss to them (they hire the chain saws, borrow money for food and equipment etc.) However, without the teeth of a more severe punishment, some people may accept being evicted as a risk worth taking. That's where Jak comes in. He pushes the Police to at least hold the loggers in custody for some time, even if they do not actually end up in court. People here are scared of the Police and going to jail for an unspecified period of time is a terrifying prospect.
This year, we will be trying to fund large signboards along the major rivers, which the Police have requested, saying logging is forbidden and warning of the consequences. The Police always accompany us when the illegally felled wood is destroyed (see photo) but, when it comes to arresting people, they want to be in a position where it is 100% clear; there can be no excuses for logging in these places.
Do we admit the system is imperfect? Yes, completely. But is it about as good as we can get it at the present time? Probably.