Friday, 11 December 2009

Batang Toru proposed as forest preserve

Batang Toru proposed as forest preserve

Apriadi Gunawan , The Jakarta Post , Medan | Fri, 12/11/2009

A number of NGOs have proposed the West Block Batang Toru Forest (HBTBB) area, encompassing three regencies in North Sumatra, be declared a forest preserve following widespread environmental damage by industrial and mining operations in the area.

The proposal was conveyed by environmental groups at a two-day workshop on the management of the HBTBB in Sibolangit, Deli Serdang regency, on Wednesday, which was attended by representatives from the regency administration and the private sector, traditional leaders and NGOs.

Pahrian G. Siregar, from the Orangutan Conservation Services Program (OCSP), said nearly 70 percent of the area was currently used as a production forest by PT Teluk Nauli.

Three other major industrial concerns — PLTA Sipansipahoras powerplat in Central Tapanuli regency, the Medco, Itochu and Ormat consortium exploring geothermal energy in Sarulla, North Tapanuli regency, and PT Agincourt Resources, involved in gold prospecting in South Tapanuli regency — have long operated in the area.

Pahrian said his group was concerned the government would fail to designate HBTBB a forest preserve and manage it in an integrated manner to protect the natural resources and biodiversity of the forest.

Based on available data, the HBTBB is home to 67 mammals, 287 birds, 10 reptiles and 688 plant species.

The area, spanning 103,009 hectares, is also home to flora and fauna species that are threatened with extinction, such as the Sumatran orangutan, tiger and tapir, jungle goat, wallacea eagle and rafflesia flower.

Pahrian said the HBTBB area, populated by 81,870 families, had been included in a group of 200 global eco-regions thanks to its rich and unique biodiversity.

“Based on this data, we ask that the central government designate the HBTBB area a forest preserve. This is vital, failing which, conflicts of interest and bigger threats to the biodiversity in the area would arise,” Pahrian told The Jakarta Post recently.

Conservation International’s Khairul Azmi said based on data, Batang Toru forest shrunk by 2.5 percent a year due to deforestation from illegal logging, industrial and mining activities and settlement by newcomers.

“A large part of the Batang Toru forest area has been converted for farmland, human settlement, infrastructure development and industries, which will have an impact on river basin areas and wetlands and lead to imbalanced water management,” Khairul said.

He added that impacts from the conversion included droughts during the dry season and floods during the rainy season.

North Sumatra Forestry Office head J. Siringo-Ringo said his office had agreed to immediately designating the HBTBB area a forest preserve, adding his office has included the proposal in the North Sumatra province spatial planning.

“The flora and fauna in the HBTBB area must be protected. I’m concerned that the natural resources and biodiversity in the area will become extinct if the proposal is not immediately taken up by the central government,” Siringo-Ringo said.

In response to the presence of industries and mining activities in the HBTBB area, Siringo-Ringo said, “the Forestry Ministry will study them, and decide whether they are should even be operating there.”