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Cracking down on illegal logging
By Liang Chao (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-06-30 01:11

Forest authorities throughout China have imposed fines in 10 cases of illegal logging -- a chronic problem threatening sustainability of forest resources and rehabilitation of ecosystems.

Those involved were also exposed to media during the new round of crackdowns on widespread criminal activity in forests.

Meanwhile, the State Forestry Administration (SFA), has urged its local agencies to deal with eight reported major cases of forest crime involving bodies corporate, firms or timber businessmen in Heilongjiang, Jilin, Sichuan, Yunnan, Shaanxi provinces and Chongqing Municipality.

Lei Jiafu, SFA's deputy director, emphasized at a televised conference that "investigation into such cases must be finished with those involved either fined or punished in accordance with existing forestry law."

The fines for the five companies involved in the crime during their construction projects of road, industrial parks and hydropower station or mining, were up to five times the damage they caused, from a ceiling of 10.5 million yuan (US$1.2 million) to 580,000 yuan (US$60,000).

Zuo Guangquan, head of Yunlong County Forest Bureau in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, was sacked for dereliction of duty and 10 other suspects have been prosecuted for unlawful felling, Wang Zhuxiong, head of the SFA's forest police, said.

"Illegal logging including excessive and non-licensed tree cutting, reclamation of woodland for farming, occupation forest for construction projects has been making a comeback recently," Lei said.

During the first six months of this year, a total of 5,681 cases of the crime were reported, up about 60 per cent over the same period of last year. Major cases increased by 117 per cent, sources with SFA's forest police said.

SFA earlier this month launched a special intensive crackdown on forest crime to prevent the country's forests, especially native forests, from being further damaged.

The beefed up operations are expected to take about two months.

China has, since 1998, shifted its policy from timber production through massive logging to sustainable use of its forestry resources as a major effort to rehabilitate the ecosystem and protect environmentally vulnerable native forests.

Forestry law was revised in 1998 to provide stiffer penalties for illegal logging. The law changes also enlisted forest police to carry out enforcement to curb illegal logging and timber theft.

However, regional protectionism is still popular in some areas.

Illegal logging takes place repeatedly when timber is harvested, transported, bought or sold in violation of national laws.

Protected by powerful regional protectionism or local authorities blindly seeking high GDP growth, timber companies may evade national regulations with relative impunity, experts say.

Some forestry institutions may also be subject to regulatory capture, becoming the clients of concession-holding industrial interests of businesses, who exercise their powers as a form of private property rather than as a public service, they said.

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