ESSAYS ON SCIENCE AND SOCIETY:
The End for Indonesia's Lowland Forests?
Paul Jepson, James K. Jarvie, Kathy MacKinnon,* Kathryn A. Monk
Twenty years ago, Indonesia used the best principles of conservation biology
to plan a national protected area system based on representativeness,
irreplaceability, complementarity, and connectivity. Large areas of all
habitats were proposed as conservation areas within each biogeographic
region. Subsequently, all of the country's forests (more than 70% of the
total land area) were allocated for production, watershed protection, or
conservation, and Indonesia endorsed the principles of sustainable forest
management. Unfortunately, these scientific principles were never fully
reconciled with national policy and practice, even though Indonesia was one
of the first signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Today,
Indonesia is a society in transition, torn apart by economic and political
crises, and the gap between scientific best practice and the reality of
current forest mismanagement could hardly be wider. If the current state of
resource anarchy continues, the lowland forests of the Sunda Shelf, the
richest forests on Earth, will be totally destroyed by 2005 on Sumatra and
2010 on Kalimantan. [dag] Where did things go wrong?
Suharto's New Order Government (1966-1998) allocated use rights (forest
concessions) over timber-rich rainforest to powerful conglomerates and
politico-business families. After Suharto's fall from power, the interim
government of President Habibie (1998-99) passed two pieces of legislation
on regional autonomy that were vague about the extent of regional autonomy
for resource planning and management. [ddag] The responsibility for the
management of all forests other than conservation areas (national parks and
reserves) was devolved to the district level within provinces, although
criteria and standards were still to be set by the central government. This
neglected the fact that most districts have no capacity for detailed spatial
and development planning for sustainable development, nor mechanisms to
coordinate forest and watershed management with neighboring districts.
The World Bank's new report on the state of the environment in Indonesia
illustrates stark choices for society between futures with and without
CREDIT: THE WORLD BANK
In December 2000, we visited protected areas and forest concessions in
Sumatra and Kalimantan. We found a rapidly deteriorating situation compared
to just 6 months previously. The one-million-hectare Kerinci-Seblat National
Park in Sumatra is surrounded by logging concessions that cover
biodiversity-rich lowland habitats excised from proposed park boundaries
after 1982. A major project, financed by a World Bank loan and a grant from
the Global Environment Facility (GEF), aimed to establish integrated
conservation management regimes for the greater Kerinci ecosystem. This is
crucially important for the continued survival of Asian megafauna such as
the Sumatran rhinoceros, the Sumatran tiger and the Asian elephant.
In the concessions we visited, illegal logging gangs were operating freely
along logging roads. Large areas of forest had been newly cleared and burned
to create new agricultural plots. Numerous piles of sawn timber indicated
extensive portable saw mill operations within the forest. Within
concessions, basic security measures were lacking, and road barriers were
unmanned. A skid trail used by the illegal gangs to drag out rough-sawn
timber even crossed one concessionaire's yard. Entrepreneurs (known as
"cukong") prefinance these gangs; loans are repaid with timber delivered to
sawmill and warehouse gates. Concessionaires claimed that logging gangs
would gang up to burn camps and logging trucks if a company attempted to
interfere with their illegal activities.
The security of logging concessions is supposedly a joint responsibility of
the concession company and the district forest department, yet neither make
any attempt to stop illegal logging. Roads constructed by the forest
concessionaires to provide access to new and undisturbed forests are
appropriated by illegal logging networks. Key officials ("oknum") in local
government act in collusion with illegal loggers by turning a blind eye
and/or providing permits for timber transport. Some government officials
want to stop illegal logging practices; they face serious intimidation and
even arson and murder.
In Gunung Leuser National Park, leaders of logging gangs ("tauke") have
negotiated agreements with leaders of communities for title over forest
lands that overlap official park boundaries.§ Several of these gangs are
backed by army and rebel groups working in collusion with foreign-backed
interests. Malinau communities of East Kalimantan have signed away rights
for up to 15,000 ha of land, some of which is already licensed by the
central government to timber concession companies. The cukong protect
themselves with quasi-legal documents that make villages liable for payments
of up to US$230,000 should they renege on the deal.
Communities have two reasons to surrender their quasi-legal rights. First,
immediate cash benefits far exceed anything acquired during past political
eras. Second, they fear retribution from illegal logging networks.
Participation in illegal logging is more lucrative in the short term than
any benefits offered by concessionaires, conservation initiatives, or
sustainable forestry projects supported by donor agencies.
Although contradicting state norms, illegal logging is becoming semi-legal
and rapidly established as the de facto institutional arrangement governing
Indonesia's forests. The state is unable, or unwilling, to address this
illegal activity. In August 2000, after international publicity about
illegal logging in Tanjung Puting National Park,|| the Minister of Forestry
wrote to the relevant provincial authorities asking for action against the
main offender, a well-known member of Indonesia's People's Assembly. The
request was ignored. In three case-study areas, Kerinci-Seblat and Gunung
Leuser national parks (Sumatra) and Malinau district (Kalimantan), illegal
operations appear to lead to one or two known principal backers, residing in
District bureaucracies are generally unaware and uncaring of biodiversity
issues and have limited capacity to govern. Local governing elites rarely
consider the environmental costs of rampant forest exploitation or believe
that environmental damage can be rectified with technical solutions,
financed by increased district prosperity or grants from the central
government and international donors. In essence, they are replicating the
resource management model of the Suharto regime at the local level.
Indonesia's government and the international community face some hard
choices if they wish to stem this biological catastrophe. To wait until the
political climate settles would be disastrous for biodiversity and forest
management. Given current trends, we estimate that Kerinci's lowland
forests, some of the richest habitats on Earth, will be destroyed within 3
years. Illegal logging will vastly increase the risk and impacts of fire
during the next El Niño event. A combination of forest degradation and land
clearance were the root causes of the 1998-99 fire disaster that blanketed
nearly 20 million people across Southeast Asia in smoke for months, with
disastrous costs to local health and economies.¶ Allowing the indiscriminate
logging to continue will result in long-term damage to watershed forests. In
October 2000, districts around Kerinci National Park suffered major flooding
that led to deaths, destroyed roads and rice crops, and caused local food
Illegal logging operations. (Top) A newly built logging road crosses the
boundary into Kerinci national park. (Middle) Illegal timber being hauled
out of Kerinci national park. (Bottom ) Log piles build up in the log yards
of the Duta Madju concession, known to have illegally transgressed the
Kerinci N.P. boundary and extracted timber from the park. Now
concessionaires are working furiously to remove timber from their
concessions before the illegal gangs get to it first.
CREDIT: JESSOP GROUP LTD.
An export ban on Indonesian timber will gain little national or local
support and is probably unenforceable. Foreign pressure for such a ban
carries the risk of a nationalist backlash that would exacerbate the
situation further. It would kill the few Indonesian and international
initiatives that have the potential to foster sustainable forest management.
In the short term, enforcement of national law is critical. A recent report
by the Indonesian Directorate of Nature Conservation concluded that local
police capacity was insufficient to address the scale and power of illegal
logging networks and that military action may be necessary to protect
national parks. Emergency action must be taken to enforce closure of illegal
sawmills and stop illegal logging operations. Where concessionaires have
lost control over their own concession areas, all operations should be
suspended, especially the building of new logging roads that open up new
areas of the forest frontier to exploitation. Priority actions should target
the ecosystems of Leuser and Kerinci (Sumatra) and Tanjung Puting and Gunung
Palung (Kalimantan), where vast losses of irreplaceable and globally
important biodiversity are imminent. Such action would send a clear message
to districts that decentralized government also means responsible
A concerted media campaign to promote public debate and mobilize civil
society must be an integral part of any action to control illegal logging.
Public, political, and donor attitudes must change to favor the following:
prosecuting all those involved in illegal logging, including top officials;
state-enforced protection of ecosystems that are critically important for
conservation of national and global biodiversity; independent third-party
monitoring of forestry practice and public exposure of wrongdoing;
increasing awareness of the watershed and environmental values of forests;
and capturing the long-term benefits that can accrue if forests are managed
under an "ethical consumerism" umbrella.
For the long term, the most promising approach for sustainable forest
management is to foster initiatives that encourage joint management between
concessionaires, communities, and district government. Already, a growing
minority of logging concessions are embracing international and local timber
"green" certification mechanisms as an alternative forest governance
mechanism that can secure local buy-in and better practice. A change from
large-scale, company-based exploitation to lower-impact joint ventures will
require a complete rethinking of forest profitability and beneficiaries.
The illegal logging in Indonesia has global relevance but no simple
solution. The scientific community, the conservation movement, industry, and
the Indonesian and donor governments must move from apparent complacency to
vigorous action at local levels. This is a time to unite to combat this
unprecedented forest loss, with its predictably dire consequences for local
communities, livelihoods, and biodiversity. In the face of this global
emergency, we must move from empty rhetoric and debate on biodiversity and
climate change to positive action to protect Indonesia's forests.
P. Jepson is with the School of Geography and the Environment, University of
Oxford, Oxford OX3 ITB, UK. J. K. Jarvie is based in Jakarta, Indonesia. K.
MacKinnon is in the Environment Department, World Bank, Washington D.C.
20433, U.S.A. K. A. Monk is with Leuser Management Unit, Jl. D. Mansyur 68,
Medan 20154, Indonesia.
*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:
The authors have each lived and worked in Indonesia for a decade or more.
Paul Jepson combines research on Indonesian protected area policy and work
as an independent consultant. He is finalizing a Ph.D. at Oxford on
conservation policy. James K. Jarvie has undertaken considerable work on
plant taxonomy and botanical surveys throughout Indonesia. He specializes in
conservation planning, sustainable forest management, and forest
certification. Kathy MacKinnon has been associated with conservation
projects in Indonesia since 1971. In 1994, she became senior biodiversity
specialist in the Environment Department of the World Bank. Kathryn A. Monk
has more than 15 years' experience of initiating, designing, and managing
conservation and research projects in Africa, the Middle East, and
Indonesia. She is now director-general of the Iwokrama Rainforest Project in
[dag] D. Holmes, Deforestation In Indonesia: A Review of the Situation in
Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi (World Bank, Jakarta, 2000).
[ddag] Down to Earth, Newsletter No. 46, Special Issue on Regional Autonomy,
available from www.gn.apc.org/dte [accessed 9 September 2000].
biodiversity conservation projects on Sumatra's rainforest frontier
[Occasional Paper No. 31, Center for International Forestry Research
(CIFOR), Bogor Barat, Indonesia], available at www.cifor.cgiar.org.
||EIA/Telapak, The Final Cut. Illegal Logging in Indonesia's Orang Utan
Parks and Illegal Logging in Tanjung Puting National Park--An Update on The
Final Cut Report (Environmental Investigation Agency, London, and Telapak
Indonesia, Bogor, 1999 and 2000).
Washington, DC, 2000).
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