Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Outsiders, Rogue Officials Blamed for Riau Forest Loss

December 01, 2009

Budi Otmansyah The Jakarta Globe

A man walking across a destroyed forest in Pelalawan, Riau. The government’s upcoming participation in the UN conference for climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December this year has thrown the spotlight on the massive deforestation taking place in parts of Riau, including those areas designated as protected. (Antara Photo) CLICK HERE TO SEE PHOTO


Outsiders, Rogue Officials Blamed for Riau Forest Loss

Illegal loggers have in the past two years cleared as much as 3,000 hectares of forest around the Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park in Indragiri Hulu district, Riau, local residents said on Monday.

Darlis, 36, a resident of Pesajian village, Batang Peranap subdistrict, said most of the loggers came from neighboring provinces, and claimed they were backed by local government officials and police and military officers in the provincial capital Pekanbaru.

“Illegal logging activities have been going on for two years with local authorities just turning a blind eye to the activities,” Darlis said. “This is despite the fact that the area is protected.”

Observations by the Jakarta Globe on Monday found that the forest in the Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park-Rimbang Baling area that connects Riau and Jambi had been severely damaged. Piles of logs ready to be transported were seen and the sound of chain-saws were heard along the corridor. At some locations, illegal loggers were burning stretches of forest.

“This corridor is used for transporting logs to pulp factories in Riau and Jambi and the cleared land is later planted with oil palms,” Darlis said.

Samar, 47, who lives near a logging site, said the process for “buying land” in the area was simple. He said interested parties just called up local village chiefs, who readily issued land certificates.

“The transactions must involve someone from the Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park Agency, because without a recommendation from the agency, village heads can’t issue a land certificate,” he said.

According to Samar, most of the people claiming land ownership in the area are police officers in the province.

“Loggers earn little money after the land is cleared,” said Samar, who claimed to have a 20-hectare palm oil plantation in the area.

Afdhal Mahyuddin, an activists from the Eyes on the Forest Foundation, said areas around Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park were home to protected animal species, including Sumatran tigers and elephants.

“Every year, about 70 elephants pass through these areas,” he said. “If the forest is devastated, then conflicts between men and elephants will increase, which may result in casualties on both sides.”