The number of illegal logging cases last year dropped to an eight-year low, but forested areas in the central and eastern parts of Taiwan proper are still frequented by unlicensed loggers, or “mountain rats,” the Forestry Bureau said yesterday.
The cases dropped from 370 in 2011 to 157 last year, which could be attributed to the bureau’s increasing cooperation with judicial and law-enforcement agencies since 2010, as well as amendments passed in 2015 to the Forestry Act (森林法), which increased penalties for illegal loggers, it said.
Data on areas frequented by illegal loggers and their top targets were released ahead of the International Day of Forests today, when the bureau is to hold its annual ceremony recognizing outstanding forest rangers.
Photo courtesy of the Hsinchu County Police Bureau’s Hengshan Precinct
Documentation about precious trees used to be classified as confidential information, but the bureau opened it to the public so that more people can help protect national forests, which cover about 1.62 million hectares, it said.
From 2011 to last year, 65 percent of the illegal logging cases involved theft of tree stumps left by logging activities from the Japanese colonial era until the 1980s, with Taiwan red cypress, Taiwan yellow cedar and Taiwan incense cedar the most frequent targets because of their special texture and aroma, the bureau said.
Stumps are easier to cut and transport, which makes them more attractive to illegal loggers, who often operate near the Beiyi Highway in Yilan County and the Northern Cross-Island Highway connecting Yilan and Taoyuan, as well as mountainous areas of Miaoli, Hsinchu, Nantou and Chiayi counties, including the Alishan area, it said.
Cutting standing trees accounted for just 12 percent of the cases, with stout camphor trees and Formosan China firs being the main targets, while other cases involved precious forest by-products (11 percent), precious driftwood (9 percent) and excavation of special garden tree species (3 percent), it said.
There are always “bigger rats” behind the mountain rats, who collect and sell the timber, the bureau said, urging people to reject wood products from unknown sources to help stop illegal logging.
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