More than 143,000 tons of trafficked hardwood have been seized since the current administration took office three years ago, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation’s Forest Department.
“Thanks to tip-offs from members of the public, we were able to make those seizures,” the department’s deputy director-general, U Kyaw Kyaw Lwin, told The Irrawaddy.
Over the same period, it said, more than 20,000 alleged timber traffickers were arrested and 9,460 pieces of machinery and 1,163 chainsaws were also seized.
In a press release on Thursday, the department said that most of the seizures were made possible by its community-based system to monitor illegal logging and alert authorities.
The department also pays cash rewards for reports of illegal logging, paying out more than 7 million kyats (SGD 6227.18) in the 2016-17 fiscal year, more than 40 million kyats (SGD 35,583.87) in the 2017-18 fiscal year, and more than 67 million kyats in 2018-19 fiscal year, said U Kyaw Kyaw Lwin.
Because Forest Department staff and forestry police are overstretched in border areas, the department had to seek the help of the Defense Ministry in some cases this year.
“Because the commander-in-chief of defence services agreed to cooperate, we were able to seize 1,356 tons and 38 pieces of machinery and arrest 111 smugglers in February and March. We can’t do without the assistance of the military in border areas were the security forces are limited,” he said.
Setting the amount of forested area against the number of staff, each Forest Department officer effectively has to cover 9,000 acres, he added.
Department staff are sometimes attacked by the traffickers they are pursuing. From 1998 to the end of March, eight staff including an assistant director were killed and 47 were injured, according to U Kyaw Kyaw Lwin.
Without the cooperation of ethnic armed groups and the military, or Tatmadaw, they would have little success combating illegal logging, said Lower House lawmaker U Aung Kyaw Kyaw Oo.
“The Forest Department alone would not be able to do it. Only when both the Tatmadaw and armed groups participate in forest conservation will it be successful,” he said.
Lower House Lawmaker U Kyaw Soe said the seizures were just “the tip of the iceberg,” adding that the involvement of some local authorities in the trafficking also made it more difficult to fight illegal logging.
Timber from Myanmar is smuggled mainly to China.
The Forest Department auctions off about 80 per cent of the timber it seizes.
Myanmar has banned the export of logged timber since 2014. The current administration has also restricted logging since 2016 in a bid to curb deforestation.