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SOS Rhino : In the News : Environmentalists move to protect lowland forests

Environmentalists move to protect lowland forests

  Tb. Arie Rukmantara and Theresia Sufa,

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, Bogor
December 10, 2005

Environmentalists fear that the remaining lowland forests on Sumatra will vanish in the next 10 years because of its conversion into industrial forest to produce raw materials for the world's rapidly growing pulp and paper industry.

Senior forestry specialist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Christian Cossalter said recently that timber from Sumatra's forests, especially from Riau province, was being harvested not only to meet domestic industry's demand, but also for export to China, where many Indonesian businessmen have set up pulp and paper factories.

According to Cossalter, in early January of this year, Indonesian-based Asia Pulp and Paper established a paper factory in Hainan, southern China, with an annual production capacity of up to 1 million tons. "Raw materials from China are insufficient. I suspect that the timber comes from Indonesia," he said.

He also said major pulp and paper firms operating in Sumatra, such as PT Indah Kiat and PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper, had a huge production capacity that could reach up to 2 million tons of pulp and paper annually, making them the biggest producers in the world.

"Such a huge production capacity will surely threaten the environment," he said.

Cossalter said his organization had conveyed the projection to the government five years ago, and therefore he wondered why the situation was getting worse.

"CIFOR is here to find the best way to manage Indonesian forests. We have carried out various studies and voiced our input to the government, but of course it's for the government to decide whether or not they should listen to us," he said.

Meanwhile, a conservation biologist at BirdLife Indonesia, Victoria Ngantung, said Sumatran lowland forests have experienced rapid deforestation since 1900, when it occupied about 16 million hectares of land.

"But now, only 500,000 hectares are left," she told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

She explained that aside from wood-based industries, the deforestation of the island was also being caused by conversion of forests into plantations.

"If no immediate action is taken, it (Sumatran lowland forests) will disappear in the next few years," she said.

Victoria said the lowland forests were vital as they possessed rich biodiversity, and were home to about 425 bird species and over a dozen endemic mammals, such as Sumatran Rhino and elephant.

Therefore, a consortium consisting of BirdLife Indonesia, BirdLife International and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have taken the initiative to restore the ecosystem in a 100,000 hectare-forest block in Jambi and South Sumatra provinces.

"After a series of studies we gave priority to lowland forests in the two provinces because they are less damaged than other lowland forest areas in Sumatra," she explained, adding that the consortium had succeeded in encouraging the Ministry of Forestry to issue regulations supporting their initiative.

The concession area will be safeguarded from clear-cutting for timber, as well as from the paper industry and oil palm plantations, BirdLife document says.

"The purpose is to save lowland forest in Sumatra by securing it from any logging activities," Victoria said.

Through the effort, she said, it was expected that in about 20 years the area would have recovered, and large, tall trees could function optimally as homes for endangered species.

The BirdLife document says surveys have revealed that 235 bird species and 32 mammals, of which seven were wild cats and five primates, are living in the concession area that also hosts a high density of Sumatran Tiger and gibbons.

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