The Indonesian province of Aceh on the western tip of the island of Sumatra may be preparing to lift the protected status of key areas of lowland rainforest potentially ending its bid to earn carbon credits from forest conservation and putting several endangered species at increased risk, according to reports.
Under a draft plan developed by the Aceh parliament’s spatial planning committee, some 71,857 hectares of protected areas will lose their protected status and be turned over for logging, mining, and conversion for plantations. While the area represents two percent of Aceh’s forests, which presently cover 55 percent of the province’s land mass, it includes some of Sumatra’s increasingly rare lowland forests. Aceh has the most extensive forest cover left in Sumatra, where vast swathes of forest — 40 percent of its primary forests and 36 percent of its total forest cover since 1990 — have been cleared for pulp and paper plantations, oil palm estates, and agriculture.
The draft plan is a significant departure from the plan proposed by Aceh’s last governor, Yusuf Irwandi, who championed himself as a conservationist. Irwandi’s plan — which was never passed — called for increasing forest cover to 68 percent of the province through strict conservation and reforestation. The new plan targets 45 percent, including reactivating abandoned logging concessions.
The former governor’s plan was driven by his interest in earning carbon credits under Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), a opposed mechanism that aims to compensate tropical countries for protecting and restoring forests. But REDD+ has failed to develop as hoped, undercutting the market for, and value of, forest-conservation based credits. Now one of the first REDD+ projects in the world — located in Aceh’s Ulu Masen — appears to be on the chopping block, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Another wilderness area, Ulu Masen, which was slated to become a 735,000-hectare preservation area to prevent carbon emissions, is also not recognized under the spatial plan,” wrote Michael Bachelard for the newspaper.
Part of the motivation for the change may be political, according to a local government source who spoke to Mongabay.com on the condition of anonymity.
“The 68 percent figure was in the draft spatial plan prepared by the Irwandi administration, however the government reform inside Aceh needed to achieve this goal never took place during his term,” the official said. “Now what we are left with is a team that is 100% anti anything that slightly resembles Irwandi, and a team of bureaucrats who have no faith in REDD delivering any funding and are preparing to launch major deforestation and [road] projects in the name of ‘community development’ which in reality is simply driven by a small number of large businesses.”
Environmentalists say some of the areas set to be excised from reserves under the revised spatial plan would go to mining, palm oil, and logging companies. The Aceh branch of WAHLI, a Indonesian environmental group, said that Acehnese civil society groups are reviewing the proposed changes and matching them with road development projects, oil palm plantations, and mining concessions.
“We fear that these changes are influenced by [business] interests,” TM Zulfikar, Executive Director of Walhi Aceh, told Mongabay-Indonesia. “We encourage the committee to open the spatial plan to the public.’
But Aceh’s Head of Planning Department of Forestry and Plantation, Saminuddin B. Tou, denied that mining and palm oil interests are influencing the process. He said some of the areas have already been converted and developed despite being designated as protected by the central government’s Ministry of Forestry.
“We checked the boundary of the Wildlife Reserve Rawa Singkil on the ground and found is a discrepancy between the Ministry of Forestry map and the conditions in the field,” Saminuddin told Mongabay-Indonesia. “When the boundaries of Wildlife Reserve were set in the year of 2000, there were already settlements in the town of Subulussalam and oil palm plantations leases in the conservation area. This is our chance to issue a concession areas and settlements which were already established in Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve.”
However the draft spatial plan also proposes opening up parts of the Leuser Ecosystem Area, an zone renowned for its biodiversity — including populations of critically endangered tigers, orangutans, rhinos, and elephants — for concessions. Leuser has been designated as a “National Strategic Area” by the central government, requiring its protection and “sustainable management”. Yet Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah recently transferred control of the Leuser ecosystem’s independent management authority to the province’s Department of Forestry, which is “traditionally pro-development” according to the Sydney Morning Herald report, raising questions about the long-term commitment to protecting the area. Leuser has already been a source of tension between the central government and the government of Aceh. Former Governor Irwandi, despite his green reputation, in 2011 granted an oil palm development permit in the Leuser’s Tripa peat swamp in violation of the central government’s moratorium on new concessions in the area. That palm oil company’s permit was later revoked, but not before the area was heavily damaged.
Ultimately if Aceh’s proposed changes to its spatial plan are deemed too radical, some could be reined in the central government. Furthermore, local opposition could make it difficult for excessive concession development in areas used traditionally by communities. Aceh still has extensive forest cover partly due to opposition in the form of an insurgency by the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka – GAM), which fought against the Indonesian government from 1976-2005. Among GAM’s grievances was natural resource extraction by outsiders.
Nonetheless environmentalists are deeply concerned about the proposed spatial plan.
“In Indonesia, most of the good forest is gone except Aceh and Papua,” Mike Griffiths, a former coordinator for the Leuser Ecosystem Management Authority told Sydney Morning Herald. “[Now, in Aceh] they are planning, sooner or later, to knock down a quarter of their forests, most of them in the lowland areas.”
“If this happens, we’ll see the extinction of all the charismatic species in 10 to 20 years.”
- Leuser Ecosystem Under Serious Threat (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Large blocks of Sumatra’s endangered rainforest may be put up for mining, logging (news.mongabay.com)
- Extinction risk as Aceh opens forests for logging (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Large blocks of Sumatra’s endangered rainforest may be put up for mining, logging (aboriginalpress.wordpress.com)
In August last year, 21 Vietnameses were arrested within Leuser Ecosystem of Aceh. Claimed themselvesto be tourists, but all visas have expired so that they have to be doported from Indonesia. It was then also suspicious that they were caught in the area, where the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatranensis) was sighted. This incident has been revealed by the board of supervisor of Leuser International Foundation (LIF), Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, during a discussion at the SIEJ’s Secretariat in Jakarta (16/1).
The Chairman of LIF’s Board of Directors, Jamal M. Gawi, confirmed the story and based on the information he received, 15 persons have been deported to Vietnam and the rest 6 are still in ditention of Aceh Police for further process. Jamal had the suspicion that they belong to the network of Sumatran rhino horn traders. “Vietnam is internationally well known as the main destination for the trading of rhino horn,” he said.
Since the capture of Sumatran rhino through a camera-trap about in December 2011, international coverage has been vigorous. Additionally, several studies has claimed that there were at least 9 rhino habitats in Leuser with a population of approx. 80 indivuals. “The critical population number of rhino is 100, therefore Sumatran rhino is still critically endangered,” he said.
Jamal also revealde that base on the study result, the value of Asian rhino is the highes, since in the literature of Chinese medicine, Asian rhino is considered as “fire”, while the African one only as “water” that has less value. “One kilogramme of Sumtran rhino horn can be valued for IDR 500 million,” revealed Doris Pandjaitan, the Vice Chairman of YLI.
Others mammal being threatened is the Sumatran tiger. (Panthera tigris sumatrae). Jamal revealed that of LIF’s investigation has indetified the killing of 10 Sumatran tiger around two months ago. “The skin was trasfered to Riau and from there smuggled oversea,” he said.
The area of Leuser Ecosystem covered up to 2.6 million ha and consists of the best quality of Sumatran tropical rain forest currently remaining. Four kinds of large mammals live within Leuser Ecosystem: elephant, tiger, rhino and orangutan, and it is indeed very special, since no other ecosystem in Indonesia host up to four key species of mammals.
But, as revealed by Jamal, the Leuser Ecosystem now faced a seriously severe problem since the spirit of the new elected provincial head of Aceh to preserve Leuser Ecosystem is weakened. For example, the Government of Aceh has dissolved the Leuser Ecosystem Management Board (BP-KEL) in November 2012, although this institution could work with LIF and others to protect Leuser Ecosystem. This step threatened the sustainability of Leuser Ecosytem and its whole potential, as well as natural resources therein.
Extinction risk as Aceh opens forests for logging
Sydney Morning Herald
SOME of the richest and most biodiverse forests in Indonesia will soon be opened up for commercial exploitation under a plan drafted by the new government of Aceh.
The chairman of the Aceh parliament’s spatial planning committee, Mr Anwar (who goes by only one name) has confirmed the plan would reduce the total forest cover from about 68 per cent of the province’s land mass to 45 per cent.
Most of the newly threatened areas are lowland forests, home to orang-utans, tigers, Sumatran rhinos and other endangered species. Conservationists say the plan drastically increases the danger of their extinction.
Much of the forest has been designated ”production forest” since the 1990s, but these areas were saved from logging and agriculture initially because they provided a hiding place for Aceh’s armed Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) insurgents, and lately by a moratorium imposed by former governor Irwandi Yusuf.
The plan must still be approved by Jakarta, and conservationist Mike Griffiths hopes that will provide an opportunity to have it rejected.
The head of forest landscape in Aceh’s Department of Forestry, Saminuddin B. Tou, told Fairfax Media that, in his view, ”it is time for logging concessions to be reactivated”. Asked if Mr Zaini was more pro-development than his predecessor, Mr Saminuddin said: ”I think he’s proportional, whereas the previous governor, Irwandi, opened more areas for forests.”
An academic adviser to the government, Dr Irfan, has also confirmed that under the new plan ”there are more areas given for the people”.
The spatial plan puts two huge forest conservation areas under threat. One, the Leuser ecosystem, is a 2.6 million-hectare tropical forest that houses 54 per cent of Asia’s terrestrial fauna including tigers, orang-utans, rhinos, elephants, and clouded leopard.
Since Mr Zaini’s election, the Leuser ecosystem’s independent management authority has been brought under the authority of the province’s traditionally pro-development Department of Forestry. Its staff are uncertain about their future.
Mr Griffiths, a former co-ordinator with the Leuser Ecosystem Management Authority, said ”in Indonesia, most of the good forest is gone except Aceh and Papua”. Now, in Aceh, ”they are planning, sooner or later, to knock down a quarter of their forests, most of them in the lowland areas”.
”If this happens, we’ll see the extinction of all the charismatic species in 10 to 20 years. The rhinos will be heading towards extinction in six months, the elephants will last perhaps 15 years, the tigers maybe 20. The orang-utans will go quite quickly because they live in the lowlands,” he said. ”It’s very sad.”
Indonesia also has one of the highest carbon emissions profiles in the world because of deforestation.
The moratorium on new forest exploitation in Aceh over the past few years, which outlawed commercial use of forests, slowed this down, but increasing agriculture such as palm oil plantations, logging and mining would accelerate the release of carbon, particularly from peat swamp. The Leuser ecosystem, however, is protected by national legislation, and Mr Griffiths said he hoped that might save it.
Another wilderness area, Ulu Masen, which was slated to become a 735,000-hectare preservation area to prevent carbon emissions, is also not recognised under the spatial plan.
This finally ends the ambitions of Australian green entrepreneur Dorjee Sun to make Ulu Masen forests a vast generator of forest carbon credits for the global market.
Mr Zaini’s office did not return calls, but Aceh public servant Mr Saminuddin said logging should be allowed again.
”The nature of the logging moratorium is that it’s temporary so it can be revoked any time,” he said. ”It is true that some concession holders are asking for their rights to be revived. The Aceh government has not responded to their requests, but I think it is time for logging concessions to be reactivated … We have to understand that the people need timber to support their activities.”
Judges grant WALHI Aceh’s request as co-defendantBanda Aceh – The panel of judges of the Administrative Court of Banmda Aceh granted WALHI Aceh’s request as co-defendant. During the court session on the lawsuit filed by PT Kalista Alam against Aceh’s Governor last Tuesday (08/01/13) the judges confirmed that WALHI Aceh has enounh reason to be co-defendant. WALHI Aceh welcome the decision.
The panel of judges leading the court for the case number 18/G/PTUN.BNA on the lawsuit of PT Kalista Alam against Aceh’s Governor Decree No. Nomor 525/BP2T/5078/2012 on the withdrawal of Aceh’s Governor Permit No. 525/BP2T/5322/2011 for Plantation Permit of 1,605 ha in Rawa Tripa is chaired by the judge Yusri Arbi SH, MH with two membering judges Eko Priyanto SH and Ade Mirza Kurniawan, SH.
Director of WALHI Aceh, T. Muhammad Zulfikar welcome the decision of the panel of judges. “The decision was right, since there are two reasons ahy WALHI has the right to be co-defendant, firstly because WALHI is an organisation concerned in environmental issues in accordance with the Law No. 32/2009 on the Protection and Management of the Environment, which declares that environmental organisations have the right to filed lawsuit for the sake of environmental preservation functions,” he explained. SEcondly, T. Muhammad Zulfikar told that WALHI Aceh is legitimate to be involved in this legal process, since the decision of Aceh’s Governor to revoke PT Kalista Alam’s permit was based on the decision of Administrative Court of Medan on WALHI Aceh’s appeal.
The court session started at qround 11.00 a.m. with explaination of objections of PT Kalista Alam followed by the announcement of the interim decision granting WALHI Ache’s request. PT Kalista Alam legal representatives consisting of Rebecca, Alfian, Melda and Irianto in their document requested the court to cancel the decision of the Governor of Aceh to revoke the plantation permit of PT Kalista Alam. They requested that the court at least postpone the decision until there is a final decision issued by the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the panel of judges explained the reason to accept WALHI Aceh as co-defendant based on the consideration on the fact that the decision of the Administrative Court of Medan is on the appeal filed by WALHI Aceh based on the decision of the Administrative COurt of Banda Aceh. Therefore, WALHI Aceh’s interest is parallel with the interest of the other defendant.
The team of legal representatives of Aceh’s Governor consisting of Kamaruddin, Amrisaldin, Sabaruddin, Ir. Khaifal and Saifullah remain with their initial exception, which is to decline all points within PT Kalista Alam filed lawsuit.
The panel of judges decided to continue with the trial in two weeks, which will be on Wednesday, January 23, 2014. The judges moved the trial from Tuesday to Wednesday based on large number of crowd attending certain session on Tuesday. 
Photos can be access at
It is a tradition in mass media to compile an end-of-the-year list. While the Jakarta Globe has covered “Indonesian Stories That Raised Eyebrows in 2012” and “The Biggest News Stories of 2012 Have Only Just Begun,” do not forget to take a moment to review environmental issues.
Indonesia is often dubbed as a country plagued with amnesia. Hence, here are a few of environmental stories that made headlines over the past year — those that still need to be followed up in 2013.
Illegal Wildlife Trading
Indonesian Police arrested a Depok resident in possession of dozens of stuffed rare animals and pelts in July — after a long hiatus on breaking down illegal wildlife trading.
At least 25 stuffed animals and pelts of rare and protected species were seized by the police, in Cimanggis, Depok, West Java, in the July raid.
The items confiscated included 14 tigers, two leopards, one clouded leopard, a lion and three bears. There were also two sacks full of tiger pelts, as well as a stuffed tiger head and four deer heads. This was considered as the biggest bust involving animal body parts.
In August, the Forestry Ministry arrested an antique dealer selling the skin of an endangered Sumatran tiger. At least four people were caught red-handed in Cilandak, South Jakarta, while attempting to sell a Sumatran tiger skin and a Javan leopard pelts.
Both cases violated the 1990 Natural Resources Conservation Law, for which the perpetrators could get up to five years in prison and up to Rp 100 million ($10,325) in fines.
The suspect in July bust, identified as Feri, was charged under the aforementioned law but was later released on bail. Both cases triggered fierce campaigns on major online shops in the country to stop facilitation transactions on rare and protected animals.
Orangutans Let Free
In 2012, there were still news about orangutans being kept as pets. But over the past year, at least 44 orangutans have been released and brought back into the wild from the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundatio’s Nyaru Menteng Rehabilitation Center in Central Kalimantan.
Meanwhile, another six orangutans were set free from the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Reintroduction Program and Land Rehabilitation in East Kalimantan. The orangutans were sent to the Kehje Sewen forest, an ecosystem restoration area in the province.
There are still at least 600 orangutans waiting to be released. This release will contribute to the target set by the presidentially-mandated Indonesian Orangutan Conservation Action Plan 2007-2017. The plan was announced by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Climate Change Conference in Bali in 2005.
The Birth of Andatu, Rare Sumatran Rhino
2012 was dubbed as the International Year of Rhino. A critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros gave birth in captivity in June in more than a century.
The birth was recorded in history as the first successful breeding outside its natural habitat. The male calf was named “Andatu,” an acronym from his father “Andalas” and his mother “Ratu.” In Bahasa Indonesia, Andatu means “Anugerah Dari Tuhan” or Gift From God.
Andatu was born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park, Lampung.
Indonesia, where one of only 11 nations where rhinos are found, is lucky to be the birthplace of Andatu. The country has two kinds of rhinos: the one-horned Javan rhino with only 35 left in Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java and the two-horned Sumatran Rhino, which only 200 left in the wild.
Tripa Peat Swamp and Environmental Crime
The Tripa peat swamp was the highest profile case in Indonesia since 2011. The debacle caught intense attention both from the Indonesian authorities and the international world.
The case was brought into attention by local people in Aceh in late 2011 revealing issuance of a permit to clear 1,605 hectares of forest inside the Leuser ecosystem in Nagan Raya district by then-governor Irwandi Yusuf to a plantation company Kalista Alam in the Tripa area. The permit issuance was a breach to Indonesia’s commitment on forest moratorium, which was pledged in 2009.
The Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) then filed a lawsuit against Irwandi to revoke the permit. The Indonesian authority, under the REDD (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation) task force, also took action by requesting the Ministry of Environment to conduct investigation over the case.
Both institutions have claimed that the permit was violating the moratorium agreement. In September this year, Walhi won the lawsuit at the Medan State Administrative Court, North Sumatra, which called for Aceh administration to scrap the permit awarded for the company.
The ruling was then followed through by the now-elected Aceh governor Zaini Abdullah in September, who finally revoked the permit of the company in Tripa.
The Tripa forest, part of the rich Leuser Ecosystem, is home to the world’s densest population of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans and one of the few places on earth where orangutans, Sumatran tigers and sun bears can still be found living side-by-side.
There is still ongoing court process over the Ministry of Environment.
Hazardous Toxic Waste
The beginning of 2012 started off with 113 containers of dangerous and hazardous waste mixed with scrap metals entered Tanjung Priok harbor shipped from England and Netherlands.
This hazardous waste was said to be the “largest shipment” ever transported into the country and became an important issue from Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya and Finance Minister Agus Martowardojo at that moment.
The 113 containers were sent back to its original country: 89 containers to England and 24 containers to Netherlands. It did not stop there. The customs widened its inspection and targeted an additional 3,446 containers from Tanjung Priok, 130 containers at the Tanjung Perak port in Surabaya, 11 containers at the Tanjung Emas port in Semarang and 77 containers at the Belawan port in Medan.
As a result, the ministry was bombarded with protesters claiming from scrap metal association and demanded to release the containers as they might lose their income.
From the law enforcement side, the ministry is currently investigating 254 containers and preparing for legal actions based on the 2009 Law on Environmental Management and Protection, the 2008 Law on Waste Management and the 1995 Customs Law for violating the documents. Currently, eight people were declared as suspects: two Chinese and the rest were Indonesians.