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Indonesia: Governor of Aceh puts forests under threat

In January 2013, chairman of the Aceh parliament’s spatial planning committee, told Australian journalist Michael Bachelard that a proposed new spatial plan for Aceh would reduce the total forest cover in the province from about 68% to 45%.

And this week Greenomics Indonesia published a report criticising the Governor of Aceh’s plans to allow logging in 54,593 hectares of protected forest.

In 2007, then-governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf, banned commercial logging in Aceh. He also helped establish the Ulu Masen REDD project, together with Fauna and Flora International and Carbon Conservation. Last year, Irwandi lost the elections in Aceh and with a new governor, Zaini Abdullah, the forests are once again under threat. The head of forest landscape in Aceh’s Department of Forestry, Saminuddin B. Tou, told Bachelard that, “The nature of the logging moratorium is that it’s temporary so it can be revoked any time.” He added, “I think it is time for logging concessions to be reactivated.”

The Leuser Ecosystem covers an area of 2.6 million hectares and is a crucially important area of forest, home to the largest remaining populations of the Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Elephant, Sumatran Rhino and the Sumatran Orangutan. Bachelard reports that since Zaini was elected, the Leuser Ecosystem Management Authority has been brought under Aceh’s pro-development Department of Forestry, leaving staff uncertain about their future.

Conservationist Mike Griffiths used to be a coordinator with the with the Leuser Ecosystem Management Authority. Griffiths told Bachelard, that most of Indonesia’s forest is gone, except in Aceh and Papua. In Aceh, he said,

“they are planning, sooner or later, to knock down a quarter of their forests, most of them in the lowland areas. If this happens, we’ll see the extinction of all the charismatic species in 10 to 20 years. The rhinos will be heading towards extinction in six months, the elephants will last perhaps 15 years, the tigers maybe 20. The orang-utans will go quite quickly because they live in the lowlands.”

The Ulu Masen REDD project is at a complete standstill. In 2011, Carbon Conservation sold 50% of its shares to a Canadian mining company, East Asia Minerals. The Government of Aceh considered this to be unacceptable and since then Ulu Masen has been stalled. Fauna and Flora International has distanced itself from Carbon Conservation and the Ulu Masen REDD project.

The new Aceh Governor, Zaini, has said that “everything to do with Ulu Masen was now under review”.

On 30 October 2012, the Aceh Governor wrote to the Minister of Forestry in Jakarta proposing the conversion of protected forest into logging concessions. Greenomics Indonesia got hold of a copy of the letter and in a new report describes the Governor’s proposal in detail. Greenomics Indonesia’s report, “Aceh Governor’s move threatens destruction of province’s protection forest”, can be downloaded here (pdf file, 1.3 MB),

In the letter, the Governor proposes clearing five blocks of forest covering a total area of 21,311 hectares for timber. An additional three blocks of protected forest covering 33,282 hectares are proposed to be converted to production forest. In Greenomics Indonesia’s report, satellite images of each of the blocks reveal good forest cover. “[T]he proposed conversion of protection forest to production forest is motivated by the fact that the land in question is still forested,” Greenomics points out.

On 26 December 2012, in a speech marking the 8th anniversary of the tsunami, Governor Zaini said that “Greediness of humans destroys forests… so it destroys the balance of nature.” Elfian Effendi, Executive Director of Greenomics Indonesia was in Aceh in December, and heard the Governor’s speech. “I was very impressed by what he had to say about protecting … the province’s forests,” he said.

However, after seeing the proposals sent by the Governor of Aceh, I have no option [than] to conclude that what the Governor said was nothing more than empty rhetoric, rather than a commitment to protecting Aceh’s forests. If the Governor is sincere about protecting the province’s forests, then he will withdraw his destructive proposals immediately.

In December 2012, REDD-Monitor visited Aceh on a research project with Down to Earth and Jaringan Komunitas Masyarakat Adat Aceh (Network of Indigenous Communities in Aceh – JKMA) to find out more about the current status of the Ulu Masen project. We conducted a series of interviews with villagers, mukim, NGO representatives and government officials. The results of the trip will be posted in a series over the next few weeks on REDD-Monitor.

This post is part of a series about Aceh and Ulu Masen. REDD-Monitor gratefully acknowledges funding from World Rainforest Movement and the Samdhana Institute to cover the costs of the trip.

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  1. thank you very much for the information provided in this paper, so far the government has not endorsed aceh Aceh Spatial Plan. and there is a possibility given that the proposal is adopted Aceh’s logging moratorium will be lifted.

    if Chris Lang has documents (proposal) to challenge the proposed change in Forest, governor of Aceh to the Minister being sent to my email

    mohon maaf bahasa inggris saya jelek (karena saya terjemahkan pakai google)

  2. Deforestation in Indonesia, a region, not a country because it is not civil and human enough to be called one, will only end when there is no viable lowland rainforest left to cut. It’s almost there now. APP has cleared millions of hectares already. Nice of them to “stop” now. Easy to do when there’s nothing really left to exploit.
    These parasites, the Wijaya family, made their billions but in the end will leave this Earth like the rest of us, only theirs be a wretched legacy.

    In other news, The governor of the province of Aceh, the last province in Sumatra that does have sizable rainforests, wants to open those up.

    So much for REDD…

    As for WWF’s Tesso Nilo National Park – the last lowland rainforest in Riau, set aside 10 years ago? – an utter failure, APP or not.

    This relentless, vicious cycle of exploitation in what was the most biologically rich area on Earth, ecocide that is, will not end until all is gone. Orangutans? Very soon gone. Elephants and Tigers? Right behind.

    Every now and then, a little something comes along, deceptively, to give hope, like this article supposedly does, but in the end, nature always loses in this part of the World.

  3. I have not studied the details of the new proposed landuse plan. Perhaps, the government is proposing to legalize the conversion of forests to industrial plantations, which will inevitably destroy forests. For example, I read here and there that the Tripa swamps, home to large populations of orangutans are proposed for conversion to industrial plantations by the new plan. This is clearly something conservationists must try to stop from happening.

    However, from the Greenomics report, I read that the proposed change is to revive logging in Aceh. It is important to realize that those protection forests have in the 1990s been logged, but they still remain forest today. Logging receives a lot of bad press when it comes to deforestation. Many equate logging with forest destruction. Many anti-logging stories relate to the increased likelihood of a logged forest being further degraded or converted. But, it is important to acknowledge that logging does not always equate with deforestation. In fact, Loggers in the production forests of Indonesia are legally obliged to maintain permanent forest cover. Harvesting is selective. Loggers only cut the commercially valuable wood above a certain diameter. Recent scientific research concluded that logging per se has relatively benign impacts on biodiversity, that a logged forest can remain a biologically rich forest.

    I do not suggest that all forests should be logged. Some forests should be set aside and protected. Ideally these areas should be as big and as well-connected as we can manage. But, given other demands on land and resources, such strictly protected areas are unlikely to ever make up more than a minority of the landscape. This may appear true in Aceh where people live on the land and there are massive pressures to generate the funds they need for development from high value crops like oil palm. In such regions we are unlikely to find the money necessary to protect and manage large reserved areas and meet the aspirations of the people. Carbon credits have promised a lot, but failed to deliver. Timber production provides one way in which forest lands can provide income and employment while retaining forest.

    So, I feel that the polarized view of forest conservation against timber production works against the forest itself. Rather than fight against logging plans, conservationists could work with the government of Aceh to minimize the impact of logging; i.e. to ensure that logging is carried out in a sustainable manner, and in exchange for such a compromise, conservationists should demand that plans to convert more forests to industrial plantations be revoked.

  4. Thank you Mr. Gaveau (and others!) for your comments. Selective forestry is of course a completely different story than clear cutting – which I think most people equate with the word “logging”. It seems that there are perceived “success stories” out there of selective logging, but considering the dense forest there in Aceh (which I have visited several times) it seems like removing any of those big trees would bring about a huge amount of stress to the environment there and all of its varied inhabitants.

    From the roads and machines needed to get deep into the forest, to the felling and noise pollution of downing a massive tree (each one home to hundreds of species) which most likely will take out tens of others connected to it with intricate vines and proximity – it doesn’t seem AT ALL like a “benign” process as you suggest. I just came across an article now ( which points to the equally destructive nature of selective forestry.

    When it comes down to it, work is needed to right the manipulation of the minds of people in these “underdeveloped” regions of the world. They have been encouraged and taught that they must struggle and do all they can to put themselves and their families in nice and neat sterile yet toxic boxes, drive around in toxin spewing vehicles, get desk jobs to destroy their bodies and creativity, and exploit the last of their homeland and forests (the most biodiversity-wise truly developed regions on Earth) to produce goods to supply the global shit-show and runaway consumption of the “developed world”.

    These people live in, or at least next to, some of the last remaining unspoilt places on earth, which are no – not in need of development. I drank the water from some of those forest rivers during the whole of my stay there – crystalline pure it was – and had the most remarkable and profound nature experiences of my life. At the guesthouses on the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park, most all of the food eaten came from the backyard orchards as well as nearby fish ponds and rice paddies.

    All that aside – of course people need the basic infrastructure to live and should be given the chance to play in the global game, but pulling out the bricks at the bottom of the building you’re living in is not a good idea. I know that with a bit of help and creativity, the people of Aceh can come up with a wealth of ways to make money that do not undermine their natural capitol, yet bolster it instead.