Hendri, 27, an illegal logger cuts down a tree in a peat swamp forest in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island. Illegal logging remains a project for forest conservation projects because timber represents quick income for villagers needing work or to feed families. Credit: Yusuf Ahmad

Hendri, 27, an illegal logger cuts down a tree in a peat swamp forest in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island. Illegal logging remains a problem for forest conservation projects because timber represents quick income for villagers needing work or to feed families. Credit: Yusuf Ahmad

It took just 30 seconds to fell the tree. Hendri, 27, a skinny Indonesian from Central Kalimantan on Borneo island, skilfully wielded the chainsaw more than half his height. The result is a thunderous crash and a tree that is quickly cut into planks on the forest floor near by.

And the reward for this effort? About 125,000 rupiah, or roughly $12 per tree measuring 30 cm or more in diameter. Hendri and the three other members of this local gang of illegal loggers make about $45 a day (not including expenses and bribes) cutting down between 4 and 5 trees and slicing them into planks with a chainsaw, using no protective gear. They work for about 10 days at a stretch.

Their work is tough and highlights the challenge of finding alternative livelihoods in communities surrounding projects that aim to save large areas of forest in the fight against climate change.

Another member of the gang, Maulana, 40, explained he didn’t like the work but he had six children to feed. If given a choice, he said he’d switch to growing rubber or managing a small area of palm oil if given the seedlings and land. Just a hectare of palm oil would be enough to meet his needs. That was preferable than the dangerous work cutting down trees in the steaming, flooded peat swamp forest, he said.