Saturday, 13 March 2010

‘Protected forests’ now up for grabs for mining

‘Protected forests’ now up for grabs for mining

Adianto P. Simamora , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta Tue,
03/09/2010 9:37 AM National

The government has just issued two new regulations on forests, which could allow protected forests to be used for commercial purposes, including long-banned mining activities.

Under the regulations, conservation forests could also be converted to production forests, to be used for plantations of trees such as acacia.

“We are now waiting for a presidential decree to bring the regulations into force. A number of firms have applied for mining permits in protected forest areas,” a senior official at the Forestry Ministry, Bambang Mulyo, said Monday.

The government regulation No. 24 on the use of forest areas says mining firms can dig for natural resources deposited under protected and production forests.

Article 5 of the regulation stipulates that in protected areas, miners are only allowed to conduct underground mining that does not change the forest functions.

However, in production forests miners could use both open pit and underground mining techniques.
Indonesia currently has 31.6 million hectares of the protected forests, of which 10.6 million hectares is in Papua province.

The second-largest area of protected forests is in East Kalimantan
(2.7 million hectares) and West Kalimantan (2.3 million hectares).

The government has allotted some 22.7 million hectares for production land that could be converted for business uses.

The 1999 Law on Forestry strongly prohibits mining activities in protected forest areas, be it open pit or underground mining. Under this law, mining is only allowed in production forest areas.

Former president Megawati Soekarnoputri issued a decree to grant special licenses to 13 giant mining firms to operate open-pit mines in protected forest areas.

Among the 13 are PT Aneka Tambang in Southeast Sulawesi, PT Freeport Indonesia in Mimika, Papua, Karimun Granit in Riau, INCO in Sulawesi, Natarang Mining in Lampung, Nusa Halmahera Mineral in North Maluku, Pelsart Tambang Kencana in South Kalimantan, Interex Sacra Raya in East and South Kalimantan and Weda Bay Nickel in North Maluku.

Regulation No. 24 also stipulates that protected forests may now be used for non-forestry businesses serving strategic purposes.

“We will elaborate on these strategic goals with the Environment Ministry and the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry,” Bambang said.

Greenomics Indonesia executive director Elfian Effendi warns that a blurred definition of strategic goals could mean more areas of protected forests are cleared in the name of development.

“The government needs to impose a moratorium on new permits for mining firms conducting open-pit mining in forest areas,” he said.

In addition to the mining sector, the ministry issued regulation No.
10 that allows for protected and conservation forests to be converted to production land, the first ever such policy in Indonesia.
Critics say the regulation may lead to open-pit mining in protected forest areas.

Bambang, however, said he would not allow this to happen. “While there are minerals deposited under the production land, license holders are not allowed to dig them up,” he said.

The government has long faced international pressure to improve its management of forests, with the current rate of deforestation at more than 1 million hectares a year.

Indonesia plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2020, of which 14 percent would be from stopping deforestation, combating illegal logging and controlling forest fires.

The government also pledged to plant 1 billion trees this year to re-green the country’s millions of hectares of degraded forest land.