After conservationists seemingly won a small victory in 2012 to protect the Tripa peat forest in Aceh, a new, far more serious threat to Indonesia’s forests and wildlife has emerged.
The Indonesian Government appears poised to approve a proposal to free up 1.2 million hectares of protected virgin rainforest on Sumatra island for commercial exploitation.
Conversion of this primary rainforest could ultimately mean extinction for the last remaining populations of Sumatran orangutan, Sumatran rhino and elephant. The world renowned Leuser ecosystem is the only remaining forest to contain all of these species along with tigers, sunbears, gibbons, tapirs and leopards. It symbolises the enormous biodiversity teetering on a knife edge in Indonesia.
In a frightening development last week, Canadian mining company East Asia Minerals, said the plan to clear 1.2 million hectares was “positive news” for mining in the area.
An Indonesian forestry ministry spokesman says the government aims to approve the plan “in up to a month”.
In a strangely bold admission, East Asia Minerals explained how it is “working closely with Government officials in the country and has representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from “protected forest” to a “production forest”.
Their statement suggests that they are effectively driving public policy, namely spatial planning, in Aceh.
It is imperative that spatial planning be based on sound scientific analysis of land suitability and environmental risks and it is outrageous to consider that such decisions could be driven by foreign companies with considerable financial incentive and complete disregard for the future wellbeing of local communities and a sustainable economy for Aceh.
Illegal logging and mining is already occurring in these concessions with devastating consequences for both the forest and the incredible wildlife it supports. The proposed changes to the spatial plan would also approve an extensive new network of roads, resulting in even further forest destruction and encroachment. In an area already prone to natural disasters, this is an incredibly dangerous decision and one which will invariably result in an increased loss of lives and huge economic losses to local communities.
Australian based conservation organisation, Wildlife Asia spokesperson, Clare Campbell said “Approval of the plan to free up this enormous area of forest for mining, paper and palm oil plantations is an environmental disaster of catastrophic proportions. Not only is this area the last chance for several species already in serious trouble but it also contains critical carbon sinks and forests that are essential for food security, regulating water flow and mitigating climate change. This will be devastating for the future of communities living in these areas as well as the broader region”.
Ms Campbell stated that “We have to stand strong against decisions that lack foresight. Wildlife Asia represents the wildlife, the people of Indonesia and the people of Australia. Forest destruction of this magnitude eventually impacts upon us all. We won’t compromise, the planet has been compromised enough. When does it stop?”
Wildlife Asia this week launched a campaign to raise funds to support local organisations in their mission to influence government decisions. Ms Campbell added “Campaigning at this level takes serious time and money and we need to pull in the heavyweights on this one. Once it’s gone, it’s gone…the future of the Sumatran orangutan, the Sumatran rhino and the people of Sumatra need the right decision to be made here. I urge all Australians to dig deep and assist us in any way possible”
Donations can be made here www.givenow.com.au/wildlifeasia
Wildlife Asia Director, Clare Campbell, is available for interviews and can be contacted on 0438 992 325