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Saving Indonesia's amazing ulin trees

GIANYAR, Indonesia--Growing at just 2 millimeters per annum, Kalimantan's ironwood trees, locally called ulin, take a century to achieve just 20 centimeters in diameter.

This staggeringly slow-growing tree lives for more than a millennium, but mature trees are rare in forests and unfeasible as plantation timber.

This densely compacted growth makes ulin one of the hardest timbers in the world. It is unbeatable as a building material and in high demand in Indonesia's rapidly growing regions, including Bali. And therein lies the dilemma, as ulin is now under threat of extinction.

The harvest of ulin for export from Kalimantan has been tightly limited to just a few licensed companies in recent years. New wood is pretty much only allowed for sale within Kalimantan.

Supporting the ban on newly extracted ulin exports is conservationist and former Sydney Rainforest Action Group member Alex Ryan of Lotunduh, Bali.

She and her Kalimantan-bred husband, Yoga Sofyar, have since 2009 been finding ways to have certified recycled ulin available as a construction timber, while also raising awareness of how current laws on ulin protection are being circumvented for illegal trade.

Ryan alleges ulin, recently logged from primary forests for use in Kalimantan, is being crafted into boats that are sailed to China where they are then dismantled and the precious timber re-milled for sale to Europe and the U.S. To address this, Ryan calls for a blanket ban on any further logging of ulin from forests.

Ulin is a protected tree species whose harvest is mainly allowed for construction in Kalimantan; off island exporting of new wood is restricted to a handful of licensed companies or to business' dealing in genuinely recycled or reclaimed timber, explains Ryan, who lived for several years in Samarinda in east Kalimantan, working on forest conservation projects.

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These tongue-and-groove floorboards of precious ulin have been re-milled from a demolished building in Kalimantan.(DPA)

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