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  The Jakarta Post 30 Jun 07
'There is an answer to the haze'

Timber confiscated via illegal logging activities in Riau should be used by pulp and paper companies and not left in the forest to burn, former environment minister Emil Salim said.

But the current law on confiscated timber prevents illegally derived wood being used legally and paper mills have said there must be proper mechanisms in place to continue to prevent forest fires.

Emil Salim is set to give his proposal to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and said he is sure his idea would help prevent the forest fires and haze that usually occur in August and September in the Riau province.

A member of the Presidential Advisory Council's Economic and Environmental Affairs, Emil wants to recommend to the President timber cleared illegally for palm oil plantations also be given to paper mills.

Emil conducted a two-day aerial observation of forested areas in Riau from June 26 to 27. And he said his findings showed "the main culprit of the recurring haze in Riau was the method used by irresponsible persons to clear forests by setting them on fire".

The burning of forests to clear land was clearly cheaper and certainly easier than any eco-friendly method, Riau said. "Timber that is scattered about in forest concession areas should be given away to prevent forest fire," Emil said.

He said using Riau's illegal timber as a raw material for pulp and paper mills would be in the long run cheaper than putting out forest fires every year.

Recurring forest fires in Riau have choked nearby provinces and neighboring countries -- and forest fire haze has contributed significantly to global warming.

Emil's proposal however is against Forestry Ministerial Decree No. 41/1999, which says illegally derived timber cannot be legalized and it cannot be moved from an area because this would raise questions from law enforcers.

Riau Forestry Office head Burhanuddin Husin said Emil's proposal was not a simple one. "(This proposal) would be illegitimate prior to the government's revision on a number of guidelines pertaining to the matter," Burhanuddin said.

However Emil said his office would submit the proposal to the President and that he would also discuss the matter with Forestry Minister MS Kaban.

"Isn't the law man made? I believe (this issue) is not something that cannot be fixed," Emil said. "Wouldn't it be better if the timber is given to legal operators rather than wasted."

But Emil said even if his proposal was accepted, Riau administration would need to closely monitor and prevent forest destruction. "The forest fire brigade must also stay vigilant during the coming dry season," said Emil.

Managing director of Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper Mill Rudi Fajar said he commended Emil's proposal. "As a pulp and paper company, we are ready to accept the timber," Rudi said. "But there must be clear mechanisms.

"The illegally logged timber has not much economic value to us -- we are more concerned about the annual forest fires from recurring in Riau," said Rudi.

Related articles on Singapore: haze
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