Roads Threaten Tigers

1. JAKARTA, Indonesia, January 8, 2007 (ENS) – Cut timber, bulldozers, excavators and clearcuts in the natural forest for road reconstruction are common sights today in one of the last large forests on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, field and remote sensing investigations by WWF Indonesia and other scientific and conservation groups have found.

The lives of two tribes of indigenous people as well as endangered elephants, tigers and orangutans are being disrupted by construction of a highway that bisects the Bukit Tigapuluh Forest Landscape, the investigators report.

Calling it a “a legally questionable highway,” the groups report that the road is being used by logging trucks serving one of the world’s largest paper companies, Asia Pulp & Paper, and its partners.

“With its high conservation values, the Bukit Tigapuluh Landscape should be protected and thus all natural forest clearance in the area has to be stopped,” said Ian Kosasih, director of WWF-Indonesia’s Forest Program.
The investigators found that clearing for the highway through the Bukit Tigapuluh Forest Landscape is part of a larger threat that includes illegal logging, clearing for plantations and other roadbuilding, much of it linked to operations of Asia Pulp & Paper and its partners.

“APP is one of the world’s largest paper companies and we believe its global customers expect it to act like a responsible corporate citizen,” Kosasih said.

Indonesian law has a set of criteria and requirements that must be fulfilled before conversion of natural forest. Yet evidence found during the investigation indicates APP-affiliated companies converted hundreds of hectares before fulfilling these requirements, in violation of Indonesian law.”

Part of the area being cleared is in a proposed Specific Protected Area that serves as habitat for about 90 Sumatran orangutans recently introduced into the area for the first time in more than 150 years.
“The company should commission independent assessments of the conservation values of these areas in a publicly transparent manner before any conversion takes place, and commit to protect and manage conservation values identified in these areas,” said Kosasih.

“Sinar Mas Group, or APP, seem to have almost completed what appears to be a logging highway connecting APP’s Riau and Jambi pulp mills through this Landscape,” the investigators’ report states.
Asia Pulp & Paper has said that the company is committed to purchasing wood fiber “from sustainably-managed forestry sources, which conserve areas of outstanding habitat and which operate in harmony with local communities.”
“To ensure the legality of our wood fiber supply, APP implements a strictly documented Chain of Custody (CoC) system. The proper functioning of this system is independently verified on a periodic basis through third-party verification audits of APP’s active fiber sources in Sumatra,” said Aida Greenbury, APP Indonesia’s vice director of sustainability and stakeholder engagement, in July 2007.

The investigative team conducted a series of field and remote sensing investigations in the area in two separate field visits, September 20-25, 2007 and November 6-11, 2007. The team found that APP-associated companies are clearing natural forests in two areas in the southern Jambi portion of the Bukit Tigapuluh Landscape.
“Clearing for the highway, which allows logging trucks easier access to APP’s pulp mills in Jambi Province, appears to have taken place after APP’s forestry operations in neighboring Riau Province were halted due to a police investigation of illegal logging,” the investigators’ report states.

Asia Pulp & Paper partners have cleared an estimated 20,000 hectares of natural forest in the Bukit Tigapuluh Landscape, with some clearing appearing to be in violation of Indonesian law, they allege.
Based on Landsat and SPOT 4 satellite images of October 2006, the forest conversion in this location had already started before that month. According to SPOT4 satellite image of September 22, 2007, there are two additional areas of fresh natural forest conversion in this concession.

“Unplanned and illegal road building is especially devastating to such areas, opening them up to poaching, illegal settlement and plantation activities and undermining the viability of indigenous communities. One of the tribes threatened by APP-linked activities is wholly dependent on the Bukit Tigapuluh Landscape,” the report states.
“We urge APP and its partners to stop clearing any more natural forest whose ecological, environmental and cultural conservation values have not been determined and to stop sourcing any of its purchased wood from such forests,” Kosasih said. “We also call on the government to ensure an end to all forms of forest clearance found to violate national Indonesian laws and regulations.”

The WWF-Indonesia report finds this Landscape is important for the survival of:
Indigenous Tribes of the Talang Mamak and Suku Anak Dalam (also called Orang Rimba or Kubu), both of which live inside this natural forest block. The Talang Mamak are a sedentary tribe who live only in the Bukit Tigapuluh Landscape. The Orang Rimba people are migratory. They live inside natural forests and depend on natural resources from the forest and river everywhere in this forest block for their existence.

High biodiversity: 198 bird species and 59 mammal species have been recorded to date.
Critically Endangered Sumatran Tigers: In 2006, the Landscape was named a Global Priority Tiger Conservation Landscape, meaning it was deemed by a collaboration of world tiger experts as having the “highest probability of persistence of tiger populations over the long term” and has habitat to support at least 100 tigers. Just 20 tiger habitats worldwide earned the designation as being of the highest priority globally for conserving tigers.

Endangered Sumatran Elephants: In 2003, it was estimated that the Landscape was inhabited by 20 to 30 elephants in the west and 20 to 30 in the south. It is unknown how many elephants survive today in these areas, but the lowland forest in Bukit Tigapuluh is of critical importance as suitable natural habitat for Sumatran elephants becomes increasingly rare.
Critically Endangered Sumatran Orangutans: This is the only existing wild habitat for this ape outside the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. The presence of large contiguous lowland rainforest, an ideal orangutan habitat, led the Frankfurt Zoological Society to choose Bukit Tigapuluh for re-introduction of Sumatran orangutans beginning in 2003. Today, 90 orangutans have repopulated the area.

The investigation report was released in Indonesia today by WWF Indonesia and partners, KKI WARSI, Zoological Society of London, Frankfurt Zoological Society and Yayasan Program Konservasi Harimau Sumatera (PKHS).
The report, “Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) Threatens Bukit Tigapuluh Landscape,” is online here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

To empower young people to be environmental leaders