Saturday, 8 December 2007

Fight to save tropical rainforests of Sumatra

Fight to save tropical rainforests of Sumatra
By Charles Clover, Environment Editor, in Jambi, Sumatra; 8/12/2007

Deep in the rainforest of Sumatra, an experiment is being conducted which could save the world's tropical forests from destruction.

Eighty per cent of Sumatra's rich lowland forest is estimated to have been destroyed in the past 30 years

Less than 900 miles from Bali, where United Nations talks on climate change are taking place, Sean Marron is taking on the illegal loggers whose activities are leading to a big increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Mr Marron is head of the Harapan Rainforest project, a logging concession bought by a conservation consortium involving Burung Indonesia, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Birdlife International.

Eighty per cent of Sumatra's rich lowland forest is estimated to have been destroyed in the past 30 years. Deforestation in Indonesia accounts for about two thirds of its greenhouse gas emissions, making it the world's third largest carbon dioxide polluter. Between 2000 and 2005, an area of forest equivalent to 300 soccer pitches was destroyed every hour.

Harapan, which straddles the border of two provinces near Jambi in central Sumatra, is 250,000 acres, roughly the size of Greater London. It is the first logged concession to be taken over with the explicit aim of ecosystem restoration.

hough made up of previously-logged forest, Harapan is unusually rich in wildlife, with gibbon monkeys and birds such as the Rufous bellied eagle and the Greater rocket-tailed drongo in abundance. The Sumatran tiger, Malaysian tapir, porcupines and elephants share the habitat.

The cycle of destruction, which so far affects only Harapan's north east corner, is brutally simple. A failure of officialdom to enforce logging rules means too much timber is cut down.
When timber companies move out, illegal loggers move in, often in collusion with illegal squatters. But while the forest is squandered, vast areas of degraded land go unused.

"We have come here for a better livelihood and to change our destiny," said one man in a lavish new settlement illegally built on Harapan's land.

"We are poor, the legal status of this land means nothing to us."
Harapan had repeatedly asked the police to evict the squatters over the past two months. The police launched three raids in a week.

Of an estimated 300 illegal loggers with chainsaws operating in the forest, 200 have gone. But an indication that the old ways are not over was the seizure by police of a lorryload of illegal timber last week. It was seized back at gunpoint by soldiers on the side of the loggers.

Mr Marron still places his faith in a presence on the ground, rather than confrontation, and an insistence that enforcement must be done by the police. Harapan has only been going six months, but it is being talked about in Bali as a possible model for using billions of pounds generated in carbon credits paid by the rich North to fund the preservation of rainforests in the poor South.

Mr Marron's Indonesian colleague, the head of operations, Muhammad Zubairin, said the survival of forests is not just a question of money. The former oil plantation manager said: "It all depends on whether there is good governance and alternative economic opportunities for local people."

But he said corruption and land rights for the poor had to be tackled as well as climate change, or the vicious cycle of illegal logging would continue.