Part VII: Musical Rainforests: When is a protected hectare not a protected hectare?
On May 22, 2013 the Jakarta Globe published an article that included an aerial March 27, 2012 photo of large sections of peatland in Rawa Tripa (the area we’ve been discussing) being burned. Highlights from the article are all too familiar . . . but with the added entertainment value of government officials trying to explain when a rainforest isn’t a rainforest, and why it’s the other governor’s fault, and why we’re all just bad at math.
[highlighted areas and comments in brackets are mine.]
An aerial view of burning peatland in Rawa Tripa in Aceh is seen in this handout photo taken March 27, 2012. (Reuters Photo)
The Forestry Ministry has denied claims by several environmental groups that 1.2 million hectares of protected forest in Aceh will be cleared if the province’s proposed spatial planning draft is approved.In a statement issued on Tuesday, Hadi Daryanto, the ministry’s secretary general said the draft proposed by the administration of Governor Zaini Abdullah only called for a change to the current spatial plan to allow up to 119,000 hectares of currently protected forest to be designated for commercial use. [Oh, is that all?] He added that the team evaluating the proposal for the central government had recommended that only 26,000 hectares be approved for commercial forestry and 79,000 hectares for other use. [Other use?????] “So the accusations by these nongovernmental organizations that Aceh will lose 1.2 million hectares of protected forest is not correct, and the figure being touted must be clarified,” Hadi said. His remarks echoed similar comments by Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the head of the government task force on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), who said in a statement over the weekend that his team had pored over existing data and documents and not found any evidence of plans to convert up to 1.2 million hectares of forest.“The figure for forest conversion proposal is consistent with what was stated by the Aceh regional government and the Forestry Ministry,” Kuntoro said, as quoted by the environmental news portal mongabay.com.Kuntoro attributed the figure of 1.2 million hectares to the difference between the total forest cover proposed by the previous governor, Irwandi Yusuf, and that proposed by Zaini.Irwandi’s plan would have seen 2.75 million hectares of forest protected, or 855,000 hectares more than the 1.895 million hectares designated in the 2000 spatial plan. Zaini’s plan, however, would leave 1.79 million hectares protected, or 105,000 hectares less than the 2000 plan. [If you understood that, you’ve had more coffee today than I have.]
The difference of 105,000 hectares comes from the amount of land that the evaluation team is currently recommending be approved for commercial use. More than 1 million people across the globe have signed an online petition demanding the Indonesian government scrap Zaini’s proposed spatial plan, based on the argument that it would lead to the clearing of 1.2 million hectares of previously protected forest. Although the plan appears to contradict the central government’s recent decision to extend a moratorium on clearing primary and peat forests, [which the March 2012 photo shows has never been in effect] the project is possible because it hinges on Aceh’s decision to overturn its own deforestation ban, which was introduced at the local level six years ago.
This wouldn’t be such awful news if we did not see and read time after time that there has been no compliance, ever, with laws regarding protected forests. It’s all a parlor game. A corporation that wants to enter and destroy a forest may do so. The government will not support or train forest rangers, and it barely funds its own ministry of environmental protection. Forest rangers who are supported and trained with international funds are sent back into their own communities to tell their starving relatives and ex-combatants who have been frozen out of any government assistance: don’t poach, don’t cut trees, and don’t grow marijuana or we’ll have to arrest you. Guess whose families are real popular in those villages? Guess how much government support they get? It just all gives me a dreadful headache. The international community cannot just do this remotely in some boardroom. It’s a wild and dangerous place, the forest. And it should be. So we all assume that everyone who says they are implementing good environmental practices are doing so. And every foreign aid organization assures its donors (and the public) that its people on the ground are fine and healthy and compliant because they received a written report telling them so.
Do I think we should all jump on a plane and head over to Aceh Timur to see for ourselves and arrange protests and whip up local support? Not really. I do think, however, that there is a global imperative to save these forests if only for the selfish reason that without them, we will all die.