By Casey Hynes
While the Burmese government’s crackdown on illegal logging looks like a good idea on the surface, many experts are warning of far-reaching effects
Burma’s recent announcement of a ban on exporting unprocessed timber logs seems like good news for the country’s environment and economy. The proposed ban is meant to stimulate development of a domestic wood-processing industry and curb logging rates, which would protect Burma’s forests. Concerns have been raised in recent years over resource extraction projects that benefit other countries but leave little for the locals, and damage farmland and the environment in the process. So a move to curb logging and protect the country’s forests appears to be a positive. But many say the ban won’t be as effective as it claims to be, and that a reduction in logging could have farther-reaching effects on the country’s working elephant population.
A major problem cited regarding the ban has been the pervasive corruption that exists in the in the logging industry. Illegal logging and smuggling of wood to outside countries is a lucrative trade, and the Democratic Voice of Burma reported that the government has not released any official plan outlining the ban or providing guidelines for a more robust wood-processing industry inside the country. Voice of America reported that according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, illegal logging exports are worth US$6 billion. That’s a a huge chunk of change, and not one illegal traders are likely to give up easily. Burma is not a country known for transparency, making it suspect that the government can or will curb illegal activity for the sake of preserving the forests.
However, developing a domestic processing industry would mean that more money stays in the country, rather than seeing large quantities of raw timber shipped to other countries for low rates.
Foreign companies are already making moves toward establishing their own processing factories in the country, according to The Irrawaddy. These include companies from India and Singapore, which were recently granted licenses to operate in Burma.
A conservationist group announced plans to create a national park in Kachin state to protect the highly endangered Myanmar Snub-nosed monkey from the havoc being wreaked on the area by logging projects that send large quantities of timber to Chinese buyers.
As TIME reported earlier this week, slashing logging allowances will mean that many of the 5,000 working elephants in the country will be left without jobs and vulnerable to exploitation when they are released into the wild. Their handlers will also be jobless. Deforestation has meant less area for these animals to roam free, which could bring them into conflict with local communities, endangering both humans and elephants.
There is also a high risk of them being poached and killed for their tusks and hides. TIME quoted Tin Win Maw, founder of Green Valley Elephant Camp in Shan State for retired timber elephants, as saying that the government has camps for retired elephants but not enough resources to protect them all nor enough medicine to treat those that are sick and injured from their years of use in the logging industry. The TIME piece also suggested that the animals could be smuggled into Thailand to be used in tourist camps. These camps are often of dubious quality when it comes to how the elephants are treated.
AlJazeera reported that elephant handlers who own large numbers of elephants that are used for logging work may be forced to sell them off if demand decreases, leaving them open to abuse and exploitation. The government needs to take this into account, and make provisions for the care of these animals. If nothing else, the slaughter of elephants for their ivory tusks and hides won’t do the government’s efforts to appear progressive and democratic in the international eye any favors.