Saturday, 13 March 2010

Bengkulu is bound to lose its forest areas

Bengkulu is bound to lose its forest areas

Wiryono , Bengkulu Thu, 03/11/2010 Opinion The Jakarta Post

In response to requests by many governors in Indonesia for a review of forest areas, the government has just issued a government regulation on the changes of designation and function of forest areas (PP 2010/10).

The change of designation of forest areas means converting part of or the entire forest area into other types of land use, while the change of function of forest areas means changing the function of part of or the entire forest area to a different one.

The Forestry Law classifies forest areas into three functions:
conservation forest, protection forest and production forest.

Conservation forest is the most protected area, while the production is the least. Conservation forest is divided into three categories, namely, nature refuge areas, nature preservation areas and hunting parks.

The first category is divided further into two categories: strict nature reserves and wild animal refuge areas.

The second category is divided into three categories, namely national parks, nature tourism parks and grand forest parks.

Forest exploitation is forbidden in all categories of conservation forest, but limited nature tourism may be done except in core zones of national parks and the strict nature reserves.

The conservation forest is completely managed by the Forestry Ministry through its Conservation of Natural Resources Agency and its National Parks Agency.

Local governments have no control on the conservation areas and they certainly do not like this situation. They often say that they are the ones who own and protect the forests but get nothing from them.

The third type, production forest, is divided into three categories:
limited production forest, permanent production forest and convertible production forest.

In limited production forest, limited logging is permitted, while convertible forest is the easiest one to be converted for other types of land use.

Protection forest is not divided further into other categories.

Logging is forbidden in this forest, but limited, sustainable use of non-timber forest products is permitted.

It is also possible to get permits for wildlife breeding, bee keeping and the planting of forage, ornamental plants, and mushrooms within the protection forest.

The water resources within the protection forest may be used for commercial purposes.

The production forest and protection forest are managed by the local government, but the Forestry Ministry still controls the regulations, so the local governments have no freedom on what to do in these forests.

They are not happy with this situation either. To have full control over the land, the local government must first make a request to the Forestry Ministry for the legal conversion of the designated forest area into non-forest designated areas. Currently, the Ministry is reviewing those requests.

To get a comprehensive evaluation of the requests, the Ministry has established integrated teams, one for each province.

The team members come from all directorates general and the Research and Development Agency at the Forestry Ministry, the Home Ministry, the Environment Ministry, the Indonesian Science Institute, universities, the National Land Agency, local forestry offices and local planning agencies.

I happen to be a member of the integrated team to review the request from the governor of Bengkulu. As many as 35 forest areas in Bengkulu province have been proposed to be revised.

Seven of the proposed areas are designated as conservation forest, eight sites as protection forest and the rest production forest.

There are proposals for almost 100,000 hectares of forest area to be converted into other land use, and about 24,000 hectares of land for change of function, from the more protected categories into less protected ones.

The most common reason for the revision is that the forest areas in question are now practically non-forest and have long been occupied by people.

For example, 6,300 hectares out of 13,500 hectares of Bukit Kaba Nature Tourism Park have been illegally converted into settlements, coffee plantations and used for other agricultural crops.

Three definitive villages are established within this conservation forest. School buildings, health facilities, village administrative offices, asphalt roads and traditional markets can be found in this forest area.

Part of this conservation forest (6,300 hectares) is proposed to be converted into a non-forest area. According to the 2010 government regulation No. 10, conservation forest is not allowed to be converted into a non-forest area.

But, it will be almost impossible to expel all the people from the forest and demolish the social and economic infrastructure built within the forest area.

Another reason for the revision is that there are large reserves of mineral ore within the forest. According to the Forestry Law, no mining is permitted in conservation forest, while in protection forest open mining is not allowed except for the 13 mining companies which had been issued a permit before the issuance of the law in 1999.

In Seluma regency in Bengkulu a permit for iron mining in a strict nature reserve was issued several years ago, and exploitation had even been attempted, before it was halted by the police. The mining company owners were tried in court but were acquitted by the district court, a verdict subsequently confirmed by the Supreme Court.

This conservation forest is proposed to be changed into limited production forest, where mining is possible.

It will be difficult to defend this strict nature reserve from the functional change into a less protected category such as production forest, because the current conditions do not meet the criteria for a strict nature reserve.

The Bengkulu Natural Resource Conservation Agency fails to show the highly specific plants, animals or ecosystem types that need strict protection. The government regulation stipulates that the failure to meet the criteria for a conservation area is a prerequisite for functional change into production or protection forest.

The pressure for forest area conversion is increasing in Bengkulu in accordance with the increased need of land due to population growth.
The 100,000 hectares of forest areas proposed to be converted into non-forest use by no means include all troubled forest areas.

Other forest areas have been occupied by villagers and illegally converted into other land use types. Unless the Forestry Ministry can ensure that growing and maintaining forest is economically profitable to villagers and local governments, it is only a matter of time that production and protection forest areas will be converted into other land uses.

The conservation forests, which are better protected and in relatively better condition, will finally be gone too. Other provinces may be in the same situation, or even worse.

We cannot afford to lose our precious forests. It is, therefore, urgent that the Forestry Ministry genuinely works toward making sound forest policy and create applicable regulations to make sure that local people and governments will get economically tangible benefit from forests.

The pressure for forest area conversion is increasing in Bengkulu in accordance with the increased need of land due to population growth.

The writer is a lecturer at Forestry Department, University of Bengkulu.