Thursday, 28 August 2008

Illegal logging closes down Mt. Selok national park

There would not have been any orangutans in this park on Java island. That said, the forests are now gone - along with all the wildlife that once lived in them.

Illegal logging closes down Mt. Selok national park

Agus Maryono , The Jakarta Post , Cilacap Thu, 08/28/2008

Forest authorities in Cilacap, Central Java have closed Mt. Selok national park as unchecked illegal logging activities have left the park barren. At least 126 hectares in the Adireja Wetan village area have been cleared, a massive loss for the park.

"The material loss is too great to be calculated, but what is even more catastrophic is the ecological damage," Dedy Rusyanto, a forest ranger at the Cilacap Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA), told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Dedy said illegal logging practices had first occurred in the area in 1999, after the downfall of then-president Soeharto.

Thousands of trees including teak, pine and angsana (Pterocarpus indicus or rosewood) were stolen from the park, with outnumbered rangers unable to prevent the looting.

"The looters came from every direction. When we arrived, the trees had already been cut down and taken away," he added.

Police and other security forces attempted to help rangers stop the looting, but illegal logging continued unabated, Dedy said.

"The illegal logging took place over a two-year period, but it left the park without a single tree," he said.

"There are no activities now, except for Buddhist monks who conduct spiritual exercises in a temple inside the park," Dedy added.

Tourists no longer visit the park, which had been known over the past 50 years for its fertile soil and dense forests, he said.

The conservation center began a regreening program for Mt. Selok eight years ago, but it has apparently been fruitless, Dedy said.

While the program was in operation, a tsunami hit the coast of southern Java in mid 2006, destroying young trees which had only recently been planted.

"We also planted indigenous trees like Benda and Kedawung in early 2006, but almost all of them were swept away in the tsunami," he said, adding it would take some 30 or 40 years to restore the barren forest to its prior state.

"Current conservation efforts have covered less than 10 percent of the park, and the trees are still small."

Dedy said he expected the Cilacap regency administration and other parties to support efforts to save the park, as it once served as the "lungs" of Cilacap.

Ansor Basuki Balasikh, an employee at Adipala district's tourism office, confirmed the looting of the trees in the park coincided with the transition from the Soeharto regime.

"Illegal loggers figured they should take the trees before they were acquired by logging companies, as occurred during the Soeharto era," said Ansor, who is chairman of the Cilacap Arts Council.

With its Buddhist temple, Mt. Selok park will be converted into a spiritual tourist destination, he added.

Many people, including the late former president Soeharto and singer Mayangsari, had reportedly used the park as a meditation site, Ansor said.
"Former president Abdurrahman Wahid once visited the tomb of the ulama, Syeh Somalangu, inside the park," he added.