Indonesia’s Rainforests on the Chopping Block

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In the wake of peace accords signed last year, the remote and wildlife-rich rainforests of Indonesia are being felled faster than ever as former rebels trade their guns for chainsaws and an already booming timber black market goes gangbusters. Only the Congo basin and Amazon have more tropical forest than the islands that make up Indonesia, which have lost about 40 percent of their rainforests in the last 50 years.

Meanwhile, the tsunami of December 2004 destroyed 130,000 Indonesian homes, further increasing demand for timber throughout the region as people rebuild. Representatives of relief agencies report that it is hard for them to refuse illegally sourced timber when their mission entails rebuilding a decimated region and restoring what little standard of living people enjoyed prior to the tsunami. The Indonesian government, which has drawn praise from conservationists for its efforts to preserve key tracts of rainforest through an extensive network of reserves, lacks the ability to police all of the illegal logging.

Environmentalists who have been monitoring the situation in Indonesia report that about 9,000 square miles of tropical rainforest throughout the islands are lost each year to illegal logging. According to projections from the nonprofit WWF-Indonesia, which has been working to stem the tide of Indonesian deforestation, all lowland trees on the neighboring islands of Sumatra and Borneo will be gone by 2010 at the current rate of deforestation.

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