Photo Credit : Paul Hilton / Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh
[MEDAN, NORTH SUMATRA] A large demonstration initiated by controversial palm oil company Pt Kalista Alam, who is accused of illegally destroying some of the world’s most important remaining orangutan habitat on the west coast of Sumatra, has disrupted the Meulaboh district court today where the Indonesian Ministry of Environment is prosecuting the company for environmental crimes. The potentially precedent-setting case has received international attention and is being monitored closely by NGOs, scientists, the government and industry alike.
The court was temporarily delayed as an estimated 150 palm oil workers, who arrived by busses believed to be paid by Pt Kalista Alam, conducted a noisy demonstration before the court, demanding the court find in favour of the controversial company. The same company had one of its palm oil concessions cancelled in September 2012, after administrational courts found the permit had been granted illegally, and last week its assets were frozen by the civil court as its process draws to an expected close. The final hearing has now been scheduled for December 5th where now the judges are expected to deliver a final ruling.
“PT Kallista Alam is one of several palm oil companies illegally burning forests on deep peat within the Leuser Ecosystem during the last few years” Said Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, speaking at a packed media event outside a major international RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) conference in Medan earlier today. “We congratulate the Indonesian Ministry of Environment on its action against PT Kallista Alam, but also remind people that a potentially devastating new spatial plan being proposed by the Provincial Government still threatens huge swathes of Aceh’s forests and their incredibly unique biodiversity, in addition to Aceh’s people and their economic livelihoods. If approved, this new plan is likely to lead to an upsurge of new legal cases due to the massive increase in environmental damage it will undoubtedly cause.”
“If the new spatial plan goes through it will be the the end of the Sumatran Elephant” Dr Singleton concluded.
“There can only be one word to describe the situation for the Leuser Ecosytem, and it’s emergency.” warned Kamaruddin SH, an Acehnese lawyer who represented communities in Tripa with their complaints against PT Kallista Alam. “The Leuser Ecosystem is a Nationally Strategic Area protected for its Environmental Function, It is currently illegal for any district, provincial or national leader to issue permits for palm oil, mining or any other activity that would degrade the environmental function of the Leuser Ecosystem, but powerful business lobby is currently trying to undo this, not to support community, but to line their pockets with the assets of Aceh. Todays show of intimidation by Pt Kalista Alam outside the court in Meulaboh is just one example of many companies attempting to intimidate the legal and political processes of Aceh, it deserves close scrutiny from anti corruption and legal agencies.
Landscape planning and GIS specialist, Graham Usher, showed satellite information and data analysis that highlighted the extreme sensitivity of Aceh’s environment. “Much of Aceh’s remaining forests are on steeply sloping terrain, that should be off limits to development under existing spatial planning regulations. Clearing forests and building roads in such areas is simply not safe, and potentially disastrous.
“What will happen if these forests are cleared is very clear, and easy to predict. We will see a collapse of the ecosystem, and the loss of the environmental benefits they provide to Aceh’s people. This will lead to food security problems in the future, in addition to a huge increase in flash floods, erosion and landlsides. It’s not rocket science”, he stressed. “it’s simply cause and effect. To open new roads and exploitive industrial concessions in the heart of Aceh will only result in even further destruction, and lead to a rash of new, entirely avoidable, social conflicts. It’s not only unique biodiversity that will suffer, Aceh’s people will suffer greatly as well!”
“Aceh is currently suffering from environmental anarchy, there is next to no law enforcement, and local elites are left to take what they want without monitoring or fear of legal consequences.”
“The community of Aceh feels that promises have been broken” stated TM Zulfikar, former Chairman of Friends of the Earth, Aceh. While many supported Governor Zaini in his election, there is now increasing frustration and anger being expressed towards his administration. “If we’d known Aceh was going to be carved up, cut down, and sold to the highest bidder most would probably have voted differently.
“Recently the Aceh Government told us at a public meeting that there is no budget left for the development of the Province’s spatial planning and that it therefore needs to be approved and ratified before the end of December. But they have still not completed any environmental sensitivity analysis and key data and information has failed to be shared. I seriously worry what the Government will do in the next two months. If things happen as we hear, he will forever be recorded in history as the Governor who returned Aceh to social conflict and environmental destruction.” Concluded Mr Zulfikar.
Gemma Tillack with Rainforest Action Network called on international consumer companies who use palm oil in their products to demand that their suppliers verifiably guarantee that the oil they supply is not connected to rainforest destruction like that taking place in Tripa. “Tripa and the Leuser Ecosystem are globally important areas. It is imperative that consumer companies take responsibility for the fact that Conflict Palm Oil like that produced at the expense of the Tripa peat swamp is making its way into the global marketplace. Companies like the “Snack Food 20” targeted by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) urgently need to engage with their supply chains and implement truly responsible palm oil procurement policies that demand palm oil be produced without contributing to rainforest destruction, climate pollution or human rights abuses.”
For further information please contact:
Dr Ian Singleton
Conservation Director, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP)
Landscape Sensitivity Analyst, PanEco Foundation
Aceh Communications Officer, Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (YEL)
Lawyer for Tripa Community Coalition
Senior Agribusiness Campaigner, Rainforest Action Network
Representing the defendant are Luhut M.P Pangaribuan, Irianto Subiakto, Rebecca F. E Siahaan, Alfian C. Sarumaha and Firman Lubis.
PRESS RELEASE – 18 May 2013
MORE THAN 1,000,000 INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT URGE PRESIDENT YUDHOYONO TO SAVE ACEH FOREST
Jakarta – Today, an astounding progress for the #SaveAceh campaign; over one million have backed a campaign launched by Indonesian conservationist Rudi Putra, urging President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to intervene in the Aceh forest rezoning plan that would put orangutans, rhinos, tigers, elephants and other critically endangered wildlife at risk.
Rudi says “The forests of Aceh, home to endangered Sumatran orangutans and rhinos, are already being decimated by poachers and illegal loggers — but this plan would be truly catastrophic. Right now Aceh is already suffering from environmental disasters, floods are claiming lives and destroy properties along the west coast. The President and Governor need to intervene to stop the deadly landslides and flash floods that a mining and logging free-for-all would let loose on local communities.”
One key area falling under the proposed provincial spatial rezoning plan, is the National Strategic Area for Environmental Protection Function the Leuser Ecosystem, protected under Law 26/2007 and Government Regulation 26/2008, which is home to around 5,800 of the remaining 6000 critically endangered Sumatran orangutans, according to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme. The Aceh provincial plan seeks to ignore National Spatial planning law 26/2007 Government Regulation 26/2008, resulting in the Leuser Ecosystem losing it’s protected status, which would allow extractive activity such as logging, mining and road building to take place.
Ian Bassin, Campaign Director of Avaaz said: “President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has a choice: to leave a strong legacy of protecting Indonesia’s natural resources or trash his green record by greenlighting this deal. More than 1 million people are urging him to stop the gold miners and loggers from raping Aceh’s forests and wiping out Indonesia’s most iconic wildlife.”
According to Co-Founder of Change.org Indonesia Usman Hamid, over a million signatures for Rudi’s petition in Avaaz.org shows tremendous solidarity from the international community to the #SaveAceh movement to urge the Aceh governor to cancel the destructive spatial planning law.
Canadian company gets heat from Canadians on Aceh deforestation
The rezoning plan, which according to Canada based East Asia Minerals press release, http://www.eaminerals.com/press-releases/229.pdf “would open more than a million hectares of forest in Aceh Province for mining logging and palm oil production” In the same release, the company claims to be working closely with the Government officials to obtain reclassification of ‘protected forest’ to ‘production forests’.
East Asia Minerals applauded the destructive plan for Aceh through a press release which created a strong backlash and a surge of thousands of signatures from Canada through Change.org petition http://www.change.org/SaveAceh showing that it is now a rising issue in Canada as well.
Laura Burden from Burnaby, BC, Canada says “I want my government to stop exploiting other countries and protect our fragile world instead.”
While Fred Oliff from Cambridge, Canada says “Canadian companies operating in foreign countries should be held to the same restrictions they would be in their own country.”
Arief Aziz. +62811195962. email@example.com
firstname.lastname@example.org | +62811.195.962
SIBOLANGIT, Indonesia – A baby Sumatran orangutan swings playfully on a branch at an Indonesian rescue center, a far cry from the terror he endured when his pristine rainforest home was razed to the ground.
Now alarm is growing at a plan activists say will open up new swathes of virgin forest on Sumatra island for commercial exploitation and lay roads through a vital ecosystem, increasing the risk to many endangered species.
The plan, which Aceh authorities say aims to open up a small amount of forest for communities to develop, is set to be approved by Jakarta despite its moves towards extending a national moratorium on new logging permits.
Green groups say such policies illustrate how the ban can be circumvented to open up new areas for deforestation, threatening to boost Indonesia’s already high emissions of carbon dioxide.
“This plan is a huge threat to species living in the forest, especially orangutans, tigers and elephants that live in the lowland forests that will likely be cleared first,” Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme told AFP.
Environmentalists warn that some one million hectares (2.5 million acres) — around the size of Cyprus — could be opened up in Aceh province for exploitation by mining, palm oil and paper companies. Officials dispute that figure.
There are particular fears about part of the project which would lay roads through the Leuser ecosystem, an area of stunning beauty where peat swamp and dense forest surround waterfalls and mountains poking through clouds.
The area, mostly in Aceh, is home to around 5,800 of the remaining 6,600 critically endangered Sumatran orangutans as well as elephants, bears and snakes including King Cobras.
Singleton warns that cases like that of the baby ape, rescued from Leuser, would rise dramatically if the road project goes ahead, as orangutan populations need long, uninterrupted stretches of forest to survive.
Named Gokong Puntung after the Chinese monkey god, the young ape had been living in an area where several companies cleared the land despite the tough protection it was supposed to have been afforded.
The primate was left stranded and clinging to his mother in a lone tree with no others to swing to. His mother was beaten by a group of passing men, and the baby was sold to a plantation worker for $10.
He was rescued in February and taken to the centre run by Singleton’s group across the Aceh border in Sibolangit district, North Sumatra province.
“Genetic experts say you need 250 to 500 orangutans minimum to have a population that’s viable in the long term without too many bad inbreeding effects,” said Singleton.
“We’ve only got about six of those populations left, and every time you put a road through the middle of one, you effectively cut it in half.”
Aceh forestry department planning chief Saminuddin B. Tou insists the roads will help link remote communities to the outside world — although activists say there are few buildings in the area and the network mainly helps big companies with access.
A murky web
Jakarta has signaled it will sign off on Aceh’s plan in the coming weeks, even as it is expected to extend the moratorium on new logging permits which expires on May 20 and has been in force for two years.
There is also strong support in the Aceh parliament which has the final say, and officials say they hope it will pass soon.
Although it seems to fly in the face of the national moratorium, the project is possible because it hinges on Aceh’s decision to overturn its own deforestation ban which was introduced at the local level six years ago.
The ban, stronger than the national measure, was brought in by the previous local administration — but it will be scrapped under the plan.
Environmentalists say it is one of the more glaring examples of how officials are using a murky web of local laws and technical explanation to push through new deforestation in defiance of the national moratorium.
“Companies and local governments have found all sorts of ways to get around the ban,” Friends of the Earth forest campaigner Zenzi Suhadi said.
However, the head of the Aceh forestry department, Husaini Syamaun, said in a statement that the plan “was not aimed at the development of mines and plantations” and did not break any laws.
The administration insists it will only free up around 200,000 hectares of new forest for exploitation.
But in reality a much larger area will be opened up, activists say.
Prior to the local ban, many mining and palm oil companies were granted concessions to chop down virgin rainforest in Aceh, but they had to freeze their activities when the province’s moratorium came in.
Officials argue that the plan will simply “reactivate” these areas of forest that had been open for logging in the past, so do not include them in their calculations.
Tou also insisted most of the project was an “administrative change” as a lot of forest had in reality been cleared by local communities already. “It’s not still virgin forest, it’s already been converted by the people,” he said.
TEMPO.CO, Jakarta-A new plan that would open up much of Aceh’s forests to commercial exploitation has been clouded by misinformation.
Officials place the blame with irresponsible NGOs, said to have spread false figures in the media.
However, civil society elements tell a different story. They claim it is the authorities who have been misleading the public, and that Aceh officials have designed the plan in secret, without a proper public consultation.
Moreover, environmental experts, activists and academics say that despite their best efforts, they have been unable to obtain basic data and documents associated with the plan. They tell of state agencies sending them in circles, withholding crucial information about what is in store for the province.
Their list of gripes also includes officials’ blatant disregard for procedure as they push the plan through Jakarta. Activists have assailed the legality of the plan as it awaits the signature of Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan, who announced in March that it was “almost final.”
Officials have promoted the plan as a vehicle to bring development to the people, but its opponents say it will actually undermine the livelihoods of the majority of the Acehnese.
Graham Usher, a landscape protection specialist with the Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Program, expounded on that point in a March 11 webinar, which was based on information obtained largely through unofficial means. In an interview with Tempo, he called the plan a “recipe for disaster.”
“If you really understand the geophysical reality of Aceh, why would you make the spatial plan they have?” he said. “It just doesn’t make environmental sense.”
Residents of Pidie, the rice bowl of Aceh, would suffer disruption to crucial water supplies, Usher said in the webinar. In Tamiang, where people still live in camps as a result of the massive flooding of 2006, reactivating logging concessions would exacerbate the risk of further disasters. The list goes on.
“We would love the opportunity to make a presentation to them about this,” he told Tempo.
“Where is the debate? Where is the rigorous peer review of what they’re doing? That’s all we’re asking for.”
The plan, known as Rencana Tata Ruang Wilayah (RTRW), has been in the works for years. In 2009, Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf’s administration submitted to Jakarta a plan that would have increased Aceh’s protected forest area. The Public Works Ministry gave it the green light, and it went to the Forestry Ministry for approval.
In April 2012, however, Irwandi lost the race for governor to Zaini Abdullah. Soon rumors of a new draft began to circulate. The bombshell came in January, when Teuku Anwar, chairman of the Aceh parliament’s spatial planning committee, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the new government intended to “reduce Aceh’s total forest cover from about 68 percent of the province’s land mass to 45 percent.”
After that, news reports began naming 1.2 million hectares as the amount to be cleared. The Jakarta Post reported that the plan would “convert around 1.2 million hectares of forests into a limited forest production zone by converting it into plantation and mining areas and other purposes.”
That was wrong, said Irfan, a special adviser to Zaini. He attributed the confusion to a “black campaign” led by NGOs with an agenda.
Irfan said the plan would merely reclassify a net 89,000 ha as nonforest area. Some villages were in areas improperly marked as forest area, blocking them from state funds. In sum, the plan would only reduce the province’s “total forest area” from 61.4 percent to 60.5 percent.
“I think [troublesome NGOs] don’t know exactly what is the plan,” he told Tempo.
Usher said Irfan was simply presenting the situation from a different angle. He was talking, Usher said, as if old forestry design plans in which there are logging concessions that have been inactive for more than a decade were still valid.
“According to his mindset, those logging concessions still exist and they’re not changing anything by including them in the new spatial plan,” Usher said.
“Under Irwandi’s plan, the idea was not to have any of these forests available for logging. That’s our point of reference. Because people who have been doing environmental sensitivity analysis in Aceh, such as myself, feel there’s no area that can be logged without serious damage.”
“Why designate an area for logging if you don’t intend to log it?” he added.
Yakob Ishademy, who headed Irwandi’s Aceh Green team tasked with developing a conservation-based policy framework, said there had been no public consultation since Zaini took office.
“The problem is, the process should be open,” Yakob told Tempo. “That is mandated by the national law on spatial planning. Consultation of stakeholders, consultation of the public, consultation of the community.”
Isma Efendi, a spokesman for the Coalition of People Concerned for Aceh’s Forests (KPHA), said that while Irwandi was far from perfect, at least his regime was more transparent.
“At that time, we felt okay about the plan,” he told Tempo. “At least in those days, there was involvement.” Now, he said, communities and NGOs had been excluded. “The government hasn’t done its job to make sure people know what they’re planning,” he said.
Others feel the same way. Asnawi Zainun, a spokesman for the mukim of Aceh Besar — mukim are indigenous leaders legally entitled to involvement in spatial planning — told a press conference on April 2 that they had been neglected and that they rejected the plan. NGOs from Aceh Tamiang have released a similar statement.
Irfan said the Aceh parliament already held a Rapat Dengar Pendapat Umum, or public hearing, in which NGOs were invited to weigh in, although he couldn’t remember when it was, just that it was “a long time ago.”
The government only invited some NGOs to meetings like that, Efendi said. The ones known to protest, such as Walhi, were generally not included. Yakob said the only public hearings he knew about had either been held during Irwandi’s regime — before the new draft came into play — or had been limited to certain groups.
Yakob added that while he was on Aceh Green they held many stakeholder consultations, spent countless hours discussing people’s complaints with them and published data sets.
Joshua Holst, who lived in Aceh recently as part of his doctorate research, said that while there was certainly participation, it wasn’t always substantive.
“Groups that will be problematic are left out. … Participation certainly has an impact, but it can also be about getting people on board with a plan that has been set already,” he wrote in an email.
Holst said agencies from which he requested ostensibly public data on Aceh’s forest cover only passed him around and claimed they didn’t have it.
“Many of my friends in Aceh indicated that it would be impossible to get GIS data, and to their point I certainly didn’t have any success,” he wrote.
A former official who has worked with KPHA said she knew several activists who had written to Aceh’s Regional Development Planning Board (Bappeda) for data related to the spatial plan, but had never received a response. Efendi too has had little luck. Oftentimes, he was offered only partial information or sent to another agency, he said.
“That should not happen,” Yakob said.
At the end of the day, the former official said, if you overlay everything — the pulp and paper, palm oil, mining and logging concessions treated as valid under the plan, the controversial proposed road network legitimized by it, the forest area changes it proposes, as well as the possible revocation of two logging moratorium now in effect — the RTRW paves the way, directly or indirectly, for nearly 2 million hectares of destruction.
“That’s why I say they are smart,” she said. “Because they don’t make it obvious.”
Banda Aceh. The Banda Aceh Administrative Court on Friday ruled in favor of a palm oil company in its lawsuit against the Aceh governor’s revocation of its permit to clear and operate on a 1,605-hectare land in Rawa Tripa, a lush forest and peatland region in the province’s Nagan Raya district.
Presiding Judge Yusri Arbi said that Aceh Governor Zainal Abdullah’s decision in September 2012 to revoke the permit for plantation firm Kallista Alam, following an order from the Medan High Court, was not legally binding because the court decision was being challenged in the Supreme Court.
Kallista Alam obtained the permit to open the plantation from then Governor Irwandi Yusuf in August 2011. But the governor’s decision was met with protests by environmental activists who said that the area was the habitat of Sumatran orangutans, which are critically endangered, and other rare animals.
The Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) dragged the governor to the Aceh state administrative court but the court rejected Walhi’s suit on April 3, 2012. Walhi then appealed the ruling to the Medan High Court. On Aug. 30, 2012, the Medan High Court ordered the governor, now Zainal Abdullah, who was elected in April 2012 , to pull the permit.
The Ministry of Environment and the Attorney General’s Office later filed a case against Kallista Alam for crimes conducted in Rawa Tripa.
Kallista Alam, however, as an affected party, filed an appeal against the Medan court decision with the Supreme Court. At the same time, it filed a lawsuit with the Banda Aceh Administrative Court contesting the revocation of the permit.
The head of the legal bureau for the Aceh government, Edrian, said the government would file an appeal against this latest verdict with the Medan High Court.
“The Aceh government’s stance is clearly to file an appeal because the governor’s decision to revoke the business permit of Kalista Alam was to follow the decision of Medan High Administrative Court,” he told Jakarta Globe on Friday.
“The panel [of judges] should consider the environmental impact created by Kallista and the impact to the residents around Rawa Tripa before deciding to grant their lawsuit. Moreover, Rawa Tripa was once under international spotlight concerning forest burning when clearing the land.”
Edrian claimed that based on investigation of the Aceh government, Kallista Alam’s initial operations had damaged the environment and led to conflicts with residents.
Walhi Aceh director T.M. Zulfikar said the verdict was a set back in the efforts to conserve the peatland and protect the orangutans in Rawa Tripa.
“Walhi Aceh will also file an appeal to the Medan High Administrative Court,” Zulfikar said.
He said that Kallista Alam should not have been able to contest the revocation as the Aceh government had full authority to issue or revoke business permits as part of its extended authority as a special region.
“We hope the Supreme Court will issue a verdict as soon as possible on the appeal filed by Kallista [Alam] so the problem won’t drag on,” he added.
A Vancouver-based mining company is under attack for a proposal that could lead to the destruction of more than one million hectares of protected forests in a region of Sumatra known for its endangered wildlife.
East Asia Minerals Corp. denies it is behind a plan to take a swath of protected forest and reclassify it as “production forest.” But a number of environmental groups, some with wide international connections, are turning up the heat on the issue, and are blaming the company for a proposed deal that would open 1.2 million hectares of jungle to mining, logging and conversion to palm-oil plantations.
Kevin Vallely, a Canadian adventurer whose expeditions have taken him to some of the wildest places on the planet, said the rain forest of northern Sumatra is an international treasure that should be protected.
“It’s one of the last, massive, great tropical rain forest jungles left in the world,” he said. “This jungle is utterly magnificent. You go in there and you know it’s a different place. It’s teeming with wildlife. Why would we want to cut down one of the world’s most amazing forests?”
The area, which includes the Leuser National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the only place in the world where tigers, elephants, orangutans and rhinos co-exist.
But Mr. Vallely, a North Vancouver architect who travelled through the region a few years ago, said some of the animals there – notably the endangered Sumatran rhino – are on the verge of extinction.
“There are something like 20 of them left,” he said. “If this [mining and logging] starts, you know it’s going to be the end of that rain-forest ecosystem … it’s over, end of story.”
That is the concern of a coalition of NGOs that includes Greenpeace South East Asia, Friends of the Earth Indonesia and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, among others.
The groups became alarmed recently when East Asia Minerals Corp. put out a press release announcing that the Indonesian government “is close to accepting a proposal to open 1.2 million hectares of forest” in Aceh province.
The news release suggested the company was actively involved in formulating the plan, which would make it easier to develop its Miwah gold-mining project, on the northern tip of Sumatra.
“The company is working closely with government officials in the country and have company representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from ‘protected forest’ to ‘production forest,’ ” stated the release.
Edward Rochette, CEO of East Asia Minerals and the company spokesman on the Sumatra mining project, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Craig MacPhail, head of investor relations for the company, said he couldn’t discuss the Miwah project or the controversy over reclassifying protected forests. But he agreed to “clarify” the wording of the release.
He said the release was simply meant as a statement by the company to update investors on developments taking place in Sumatra.
The company, he said, is not behind the plan to open the forests to development and is simply not influential enough to guide the government of Sumatra in its policy development.
“The Ministry of Forestry [in Sumatra] has suggested plans to reclassify protected forests to production forests. That’s what they have done. We haven’t done that,” he said. “We haven’t been leading a campaign to strip the forests of Indonesia … we haven’t suggested it. We were informing our investor base [in the press release] … about what Aceh province had been putting forward.”
Mr. MacPhail said his company would like to stay out of the argument over the future of the protected forests in Sumatra. But he admitted “it’s gotten pretty hot” since the release came out last week.
It is probably going to get a lot hotter as word spreads that Sumatra’s iconic rain forest is about to be put on the chopping block.
The company is working closely with government officials in the country and have company representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from “protected forest” to “production forest.” East Asia Minerals has implemented a new Corporate Social Responsibility program and hired ex-government officials to help them with these efforts.
- Greenpeace: East Asia Mining Behind the Reclassification of Aceh’s Protection Forest (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- PRESS RELEASE: Aceh plans to clear 1.2 million hectares of protected forest trigger alarm over increase in landslides, floods and other natural disasters. (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Mining company working with Indonesian government to strip forest of protected status (guardian.co.uk)
Aceh is currently preparing to open over 1.2 million hectares of protected forest for the development of mines, plantations, roads, logging and palm oil expansion. This devastating plan would reduce total forest cover of Aceh from 68% to 45% and see the destruction of Tripa and other areas of the protected Leuser Ecosystem driving Sumatran orangutan, elephants, tigers and rhinos to extinction.
Act now! This must be stopped.
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Environmental scientists and institutions are calling on the Aceh provincial administration to maintain the province’s biodiversity amid fears that an incoming spatial plan will further exploit its vast forests.
The scientists also called on the administration to preserve protected species as well as guarantee food supplies for residents living in the province’s lowlands.
“We expect the Aceh provincial administration to make use of scientific findings made by scientists working on biodiversity in Aceh and other countries,” said Antony J. Lynam, secretary of the Asia Pacific chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC).
The association held a chapter meeting in Banda Aceh from March 18-22.
Scientists presented their research from various countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand at the conference.
“Through the research results, policy makers can decide on policies related to sustainable environmental management for the good of the public,” said Lynam.
Researchers grouped under ATBC came up with a declaration and recommendations for the Aceh administration, especially related to the provincial spatial plan (RTRW) that will be implemented soon.
The scientists said Aceh had a unique culture with the presence of customary institutions such as Mukim and Panglima Uteun, which in previous centuries had preserved 3.7 million hectares of forest for the welfare and well-being of future generations.
That was why Aceh’s forests were essential for food security through water supply management during dry and rainy seasons.
“Deforestation in Aceh’s highlands will increase the risk of flash floods for people living downstream in the coastal areas as well as threatening areas where special species such as elephants, tigers and orangutan live together,” said Lynam.
The special autonomy granted to Aceh by the central government allowed the province to develop an innovative RTRW, showing that economic development and environmentally-based management could be implemented
Aceh’s forests have been globally recognized, with the Gunung Leuser National Park inside the protected Leuser Ecosystem being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
However, scientists believe that some components of the Aceh RTRW, especially the development of the forestry sector and latest infrastructure projects, will pose serious risks to the environment, such as a loss of natural hydrology functions and serious damage in lowland rivers and fisheries, which will have a negative effect on human life and biodiversity.
Lynam said the scientists recommended that the Aceh RTRW be based on high quality spatial data, which was already available in various provincial agencies. The data includes maps of forest areas along rivers, environmental risks, soil types, geological disasters, population, rain intensity and wildlife in Aceh.
Meanwhile, Bill Laurence of James Cook University, Australia, said the provincial administration had to avoid opening access roads around forests, especially the remaining conservation forests.
“Opening roads around those ecosystem areas would be like opening a wound that would never heal. Roads will provide access to forest pillaging and opening,” he said.
“Once the infrastructure is developed, then the forest will head toward destruction,” he added.
Laurence expected the Aceh administration to carefully consider opening roads in ecosystem areas, including for reasons related to improving the public’s economic condition.
“We must prevent long-term, bigger losses that will overshadow short-term benefits,” he said.
- Sciencists urged to stand up for Aceh’s biodiversity (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Conservation scientists: Aceh’s spatial plan a risk to forests, wildlife, and people (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)