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Illegal loggers to be imprisoned in Malaysia, possibly executed in Indonesia

Illegal loggers to be imprisoned in Malaysia, possibly executed in Indonesia

Illegal loggers to be imprisoned in Malaysia, executed in Indonesia
Rhett A. Butler,
August 30, 2005

Illegal loggers will now face mandatory jail time in Malaysia under new laws expected to be implemented sometime early next year. Existing enforcement efforts, which rely on fines but are poorly enforced, have largely failed to curb illegal wood harvesting in the country’s tropical rainforests.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, anyone involved in illegal logging will face jail sentences of between one year and 20 years under the new laws.

World’s oldest forests replaced with palm oil plantations

Once home to extensive forest cover, during the 1980s and 1990s Malaysia became the leading exporter of tropical timber. Forests across Malaysian Borneo (Sarawak and Sabah) were decimated by industrial logging operations and clearing for agriculture, especially palm oil plantations. Today less than half the country’s natural forest cover remains and deforestation has been blamed both for water shortages around Kuala Lumpur and flooding.

Photo courtesy of NASA’s Earth Observatory

A thick cloud of smoke pours from forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Forest fires are common in Indonesia during the hot, dry months of the dry season, which runs from June to September. Hot, dry weather and winds blowing from the southwest help fires explode in Indonesia’s forests, and such conditions probably fed the fires seen outlined in red in this image. The winds are also responsible for blanketing parts of Malaysia with smoke. In this image, a white plume of smoke snakes north and east from the fires, moving inland over northern Malaysia. Not only does the dense haze decrease visibility, posing a traffic hazard for both air and ground travel, but the smoke could cause serious health problems.

Malaysia’s decision to toughen forestry laws comes at a time when the country is plagued with haze from agricultural fires burning in neighboring Indonesia. The haze — formed when sulphides, nitrous oxides, and ash released by burning are combined with the industrial pollution and exhaust from cities — has pushed the air pollution index to 500 for the first time in peninsular Malaysia, a level at which people are warned to avoid all physical activity outdoors and people with heart or lung disease, adults over 45 years, and children are urged to remain indoors and keep activity levels to a minimum. Malaysia has declared a state of emergency as the polluting haze has closed ports and businesses, and officials fear that the current air pollution could rival the 1997-1998 haze which cost region an estimated $9.3 billion in economic losses.

Relations between Indonesia and its neighbors are tense over the haze. Malaysia and Singapore have offered assistance in fighting the blaze, while simultaneously placing blame on the country for its lack of progress in controlling the wild fires. Indonesia in turn has blamed Malaysian firms for rampant illegal logging in the country which has left its forests more susceptible to conflagrations. Last year, in an effort to reduce prohibited forest exploitation, Indonesian lawmakers proposed implementing the death penalty for illegal loggers and fire starters.

Malaysia’s remaining old growth forests are, biologically, some of the richest on the planet and are home to a number of endangered species including forest elephants, rhinos, orangutans, tigers, monkeys, and tapir. The government has been working to encourage ecotourism but still struggles policing its own forests. Malaysian firms have also been implicated in illegal logging and timber smuggling elsewhere. Last year an investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a US-based environmental group, found that hardwood is illegally logged in Indonesia and smuggled into Malaysia, where dealers slap on fake labels describing the wood as “Malaysian origin.” The wood is then shipped to China where finished products for sale in other parts of Asia, the United States, and Western Europe.

This article used information from the Associated Press and Environmental the Investigation Agency.

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