Friday, 13 March 2009

Lampung puzzled by problem of squatters at national park

Oyos Saroso H.N. , The Jakarta Post , Bandarlampung | Fri, 03/13/2009

The recent deaths of two illegal loggers from Lampung mauled by tigers in Jambi have not discouraged squatters who have opened up coffee farms within the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Lampung.

The squatters have ignored calls by the Lampung provincial administration to immediately leave the park, while efforts by the Lampung Forestry Office and Bukit Barisan Selatan Center to evict the squatters have been impeded by lack of funds.

"We have been living there for dozens of years unharmed. Where else would we seek a living if we don't cultivate the farms in the forest?" asked Husain, 50, a resident of Bengkunat, West Lampung, recently.

Husain acknowledged he had cultivated around two hectares of coffee and resided in a semi-permanent home with his wife and two children in the national park in Suoh, West Lampung.

"I'm not afraid of the tigers. Tigers and elephants have often crossed my farm. I will only leave the area when there's clear compensation," said Husain.

As many as 15,600 families who have built semi-permanent homes and engaged in farming are due to be evicted forcefully from the national park. Two years ago, forest rangers, assisted by authorities from the West Lampung and Tanggamus regency administrations, had planned to expel the squatters, but failed due to lack of funds.

"We (Lampung provincial administration) would be reluctant if we have to tackle the problem, because the Forestry Ministry, the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) and the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park have more authority to do so," said Lampung Governor Syamsurya Ryacudu, adding the most feasible approach would be to implement a farm zoning system.

"We have been planning to initiate the zoning system for the last two years but it is still difficult to implement because residents could easily open up farms in the forest, despite the fact that Lampung's coffee exports would be subject to ecolabelling, because a large amount of the coffee products come from the forest in the national park," he said.

The 365,000-hectare Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park is severely damaged due to rampant illegal logging and forest conversion, because illegal loggers have not only cut down large trees, such as me-ranti, tenam and mahogany, but have also opened up farmland for coffee, pepper, cacao, cassava and rice.

Environmental degradation due to illegal logging in the national park is growing at an alarming rate, given the increasing number of loggers. There are currently around 15,600 squatter homes in the area.

The areas bearing the brunt of illegal settlement are Sekincau, Suoh and Rantaagung (bordering Bengkulu province). Based on the park's data, the size of the degraded areas has reached about 52,000 ha.

This data varies from that issued by the Lampung chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) which has recorded that around 50 percent of the park area has been damaged, while the Lampung Forest Conservation Consortium (KKHL) claims 60 percent of the park area has been destroyed.

Lampung Walhi director Hendrawan said illegal logging and forest conversion in West Lampung was attributed to the community-owned timber license issued by the local forestry office.

According to Hendrawan, the office has issued timber licenses easily to residents, despite the fact that they no longer own land with hard trees. A person could supply a sawmill with timber just by being equipped with a timber license.

The timber is clearly illegal and derived from the protected forest and the national park because in West Lampung residents no longer own land which is grown with hard-wood trees," said Hendrawan.

West Lampung Forestry Office head Warsito denied his office had issued the timber licenses carelessly. According to him, his office conducts surveys prior to issuing licenses.

Lampung Walhi data shows thousands of cubic meters of timber are shipped from Lampung to Java each month.

"Every night six to seven truck-loads of illegal timber are transported from West Lampung to Java, not to mention timber shipped by sea," said Hendrawan.

The Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park spans 350,000 hectares, stretching from Tanggamus and West Lampung regencies in Lampung to Kaur regency in Bengkulu. It is home to a variety of wildlife, including 118 mammals, 425 birds, 45 amphibians and reptiles and 51 fish species. It also contains around 200 types of tree, 126 orchids, 15 types of bamboo, and 44 undergrowth species.

Besides its abundance in flora and fauna, the park is also blessed with a number of fascinating natural beauty spots, including its four lakes, four waterfalls, seven natural caves and 23 river basin areas.