A recent case in Gowa, South Sulawesi, has highlighted numerous instances of illegal logging uncovered since COVID-19 began to spread across the country. The Environment and Forestry Ministry investigated at least five other similar cases in April alone and many more over the last three months.
Environmental activists say that the illegal logging cases recorded during the COVID-19 outbreak might only be the tip of the iceberg as large-scale social distancing will likely force the ministry to deploy fewer officers on the field, thereby weakening law enforcement.
Concerns have also been raised that a recent regulation by the Trade Ministry that relaxed export regulations for timber products will stoke further illegal logging.
The regulation scrapped the requirement for Indonesian timber companies to secure V-legal documents certifying that the wood came from legal sources before exporting products. This change in policy has made it harder for authorities to monitor timber exports.
In addition to this, ongoing forest fires in some regions could divert the government’s attention away from monitoring illegal logging, activists have warned.
The current pandemic, activists warn, should also serve as a wake-up call for the government to stop illegal logging. A 2016 United Nations Environment Program report found that the risk of emergent and fast-spreading diseases increased as encroachment upon natural habitats by human activities intensified.
“It is important to prevent illegal logging so that we do not have new viruses like what we have right now. If not, we will face what scientists have warned about, which is the emergence of new viruses that we have never seen before”, said Syahrul Fitra from the environmental NGO Auriga Nusantara.