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Hopes Dim Further for Indonesia’s Rainforests
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April 28, 2006
OVERVIEW & COMMENTARY by Dr. Glen Barry, Rainforest Portal
A month ago I made the audacious statement that the rainforest
movement had achieved a victory in protecting Indonesia’s
rainforests and orangutans from a huge oil palm plantation. I
made this statement fully aware that Indonesia’s rainforests
were in frenzied crisis and hoping that supporting those in
government working to conserve rainforests from such atrocities
could make a positive difference. This hope has proven fleeting.
I now realize I was wrong, am retracting the victory claim, and
have realized there is little or no hope for Indonesia’s large
and intact ancient rainforests. I apologize for my error.
The latest news is that a Chinese company intends to set-up a
massive timber plant in Indonesian Papua to process rare
rainforest timbers for Olympic construction. This will set the
stage for the final destruction of these relatively intact
rainforests. The second story details the ongoing power struggle
between various Indonesian factions for and against the massive
oil palm project. These actions – which are so grossly unjust
and unsustainable, and our inability to stop them – show just
how impotent the rainforest movement has become.
Together with the nearly four million hectares of deforestation
already occurring annually in Indonesia’s rainforests, the new
forces of rainforest destruction arrayed against Indonesia’s
rainforest ecosystems are simply too great. Nothing can stand
against a billion Chinese consumers all aspiring to the wasteful
and deadly living standards of Americans and Europeans.
Ecological Internet will continue our campaign to support those
in the Indonesian government that oppose these projects. But
frankly, there is little hope that anything but the smallest
little fragmented bits of Indonesia’s rainforests will ever be
protected, and perhaps I was crazy for saying there was. Let’s
keep on trying nonetheless.
RELAYED TEXT STARTS HERE:
Indonesia: Chinese firm seeks license to build $1 billion timber
plant in Papua
Source: Copyright 2006, Jakarta Post
Date: April 28, 2006
Byline: Tb. Arie Rukmantara
A Chinese company is seeking for the government’s approval to
set up a timber processing factory worth up to US$1 billion in
Forestry Minister Malem Sambat Kaban said in Jakarta on Tuesday
that the plant would process the province’s famous merbau
(intsia spp) timber, which would then be exported to China for
the construction of sports facilities for the 2008 Olympic
“They need 800,000 cubic meters of merbau timber for the 2008
Olympics in China,” Kaban told reporters at a breakfast meeting
at his official residence in Central Jakarta.
He said the Chinese company would invest up to $1 billion on the
construction of the plant and on acquiring Merbau logs.
Merbau is a dark, luxurious, red wood that is primarily used for
the manufacturing of hardwood floors, and can command prices of
up to US$138 per square meter. Merbau in round logs costs
between $200 and $275 per cubic meter on the global market.
The merbau tree is endemic in the Indonesian provinces of Papua
and West Irian, as well as in neighboring Papua New Guinea.
Experts forecast that China’s drive to develop its
infrastructure to host the Olympics will consume tens of
millions of cubic meters of primary forestry products, including
solid wood flooring.
Kaban said that setting up the timber plant in Papua was the
only way that the company could meet its timber needs as the
government has banned the export of round logs since 2001.
“The company must process all the logs on the ground in Papua
and then ship them to China as processed timber,” he said,
adding that the investment deal was expected to be concluded
The government slapped an export ban on unprocessed logs in 2001
to curb rampant illegal logging, which had been devastating 2.8
million hectares of forest and inflicting losses on the taxpayer
of about $4 billion per year.
Environmentalists are opposed to any project that would further
accelerate deforestation in Papua, which has some of the world’s
last remaining large intact forests. However, these forests have
come under severe pressure from the rampant illegal logging of
merbau and granting of massive logging concessions.
“The size of the investment is tempting, but the government
needs to consider whether there are enough raw materials to
supply this plant. If there isn’t, the company’s presence might
only serve to legalize and fuel further illegal logging,” said
Greenomics executive director Elfian Effendy.
Environmental groups have said that China’s growing timber
industry consumes almost all of the estimated 300,000 cubic
meters of merbau smuggled out of Papua every month.
Forestry Ministry spokesperson Masyhud said that the ministry
would ensure that the company would only be supplied with logs
harvested from timber plantations, and would also require the
company to establish its own timber plantations.
“Should the planned investment be approved by both sides, we
will require them to apply sustainable forestry management
measures as we are confident that such a large investment will
mean a long-term presence,” he said.
Title: The end of Borneo’s tropical forests?
Source: Copyright 2006, New York Times
Date: April 28, 2006
Byline: Jane Perlez
For generations, Anyie Apui and his people have gotten by on
fish and wild game, made do without roads, and left their
majestic trees intact. But all that is about to change.
The Indonesian government recently signed a deal with China that
would rip into some of the last untouched tropical forests here
on Borneo, where dozens of new species have been found in recent
years in an area so vital it is sometimes called the lungs of
For China, the wood from the forest will provide flooring and
furniture for its ever-expanding middle class, and in its place
will be planted vast plantations for palm oil, an increasingly
popular ingredient in detergents, soaps, and lipstick.
For Anyie and his clan, the deal will bring jobs and the
opportunity for a modern life.
“We love our forest, but I want to build the road for my people,
I owe it to them,” said Anyie, 63, an astute elder of the Dayak
people. “We’ve had enough of this kind of living.”
The forest-to-palm-oil deal, one of an array of projects that
China said it would develop in Indonesia as part of a $7 billion
investment spree last year, illustrates the increasingly
symbiotic relationship between China’s need for a wide variety
of raw materials and its Asian neighbors’ readiness to provide
them – often at enormous environmental cost.
From Malaysia to Indonesia to Myanmar, many of the once-
plentiful forests of Southeast Asia are already gone, stripped
legally or illegally, including some in the low-lying lands here
in Kalimantan, on the Indonesian side of Borneo.
Those that remain, like the towering stands in Anyie’s part of
the highlands, are ever-pressed, ever-prized and ever more
valuable, particularly as China’s economy continues to surge.
Only half of Borneo’s original forests still stand.
Overall, Indonesia says it expects China to invest $30 billion
in the next decade, a big infusion of capital that contrasts
with the declining investment here and in the region by American
Much of that Chinese investment is aimed at the extractive
industries, along with infrastructure like refineries, railroads
and toll roads to help speed the flow of Indonesia’s plentiful
coal, oil, gas, timber, and palm oil to China’s ports.
On April 19, Indonesia announced that China had placed a $1
billion rush order for 800,000 cubic meters, or 28.2 million
cubic feet, of an expensive red- brown hardwood, called merbau,
to be used in construction of its sports facilities for the 2008
Merbau wood, mostly prevalent in Papua’s virgin forests, has
been illegally logged and shipped to China since the late 1990s,
stripping large swaths of forest in the Indonesian province on
the western side of the island of New Guinea.
The decision to award a $1 billion concession to China would
“increase the deforestation of Papua,” a place of extraordinary
biodiversity, said Elfian Effendy, executive director of
Greenomics, an Indonesian environmental watchdog. “It’s not
The plan for palm oil plantations in Borneo was signed during a
visit by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia to
Beijing last July.
Major consumer companies like Procter & Gamble say they are
using more palm oil in their products instead of refined crude
oil; palm oil is favored for cooking by the growing Chinese
middle class, and it is being explored as an alternative fuel.
Chopping down as much as 1.8 million hectares, or about 4.5
million acres, of the last straight-stemmed, slow-growing
towering dipterocarp trees in Borneo, which botanists say are
essential for sustaining a valuable ecosystem for plants,
animals and people, has raised a storm of protest from
Indonesia’s environmentalists, and some economists.
Maps for the project show it would engulf much of the forests in
Kayan Mentarang National Park, where the intoxicating mix of
high altitude and equatorial humidity breeds a rare diversity of
species, second only to Papua’s, biologists say.
The area serves as the source of 14 of the 20 major rivers on
Borneo, and the destruction of the forests would threaten water
supplies to coastal towns, said Stuart Chapman, a director at
the World Wildlife Fund in Indonesia.
Under pressure from environmental groups, the Indonesian
minister of environment and the minister of forestry both said
they opposed the plan.
The coordinating minister for economic affairs, Boediono, said
this month that he was still deciding the “pros and cons” of
whether the entire plan would be executed.
But the head of the Indonesian military, General Djoko Suyanto,
whose forces are heavily involved in Indonesia’s illegal
forestry businesses, vigorously endorsed the plan during a visit
to the Borneo border region in March.
For years, Anyie, the Dayak elder, said he had resisted offers
from commercial contractors to cut down the forest around his
village, adjacent to the park.
He had worked hard, too, to keep the old ways of life, which
until 40 years ago included forays into head hunting, he
explained, showing visitors the skull of a Malaysian soldier
stowed in his attic, a souvenir from the 1965 Indonesian border
war with Malaysia.
But now it was time for a change, he said.
“People have told me, ‘Wood is gold, you’re still too honest,'”
said Anyie, a diminutive man with brush cut black hair.
His own grown children had deserted the village for big towns,
and the villagers left behind were tired of traveling everywhere
by foot (three days to neighboring Malaysia, where jobs in palm
oil plantations are plentiful) or by river boats powered by
anemic 10- horsepower engines.
For visitors, the journey is just as arduous. Today the area can
be reached only by light plane, a pummeling voyage over rapids
in an open wooden canoe and then a trek through tangles of trees
A three-day stay at a research station deep inside the forest
told what is at stake for the ecosystem, first documented by
Charles Darwin’s colleague, Alfred Russel Wallace, in an account
in the late 1850s called “The Malay Archipelago.”
Wild mango trees, tropical oaks, pale-trunked myrtles, sago
palms, rattan trees, and pandanas with shiny leaves like long
prongs crowded the hills that rise almost vertically above the
Exceedingly tall and elegant dipterocarps towered over all,
their green canopies filtering shards of occasional sunlight.
Underfoot, tiny dew encrusted green mosses, still damp in the
afternoon, clung to rocks, and miniature versions of African
violets, poked their mauve flowers just above the ground.
Wildlife abounds, said Stephan Wulffraat, 39, a Dutch
conservation biologist and the director of the research station
run by the World Wildlife Fund.
The forest is home to seven species of leaf monkeys, he said,
and at high noon, a crashing sound high in the trees announced a
group’s arrival. A red coated deer made a fleeting appearance
and dashed off.
In some areas of the gloomy forest floor, Wulffraat, who fended
off leeches with his pant legs tucked into knee- length football
socks, has set more than a dozen camera traps to photograph
wildlife, which is shy to appear.
Three years ago, an animal the size of a large cat with a bushy
tail with a reddish fur sauntered by the camera. Wulffraat, a
seven-year veteran of the forest, said the animal resembled a
civet, but he and other experts believe it was an entirely new
species, he said.
The discovery of a species of mammal like a civet is unusual,
but dozens of new species of trees, mosses and herbs,
butterflies, frogs, fresh water prawns and snakes have all been
found since the station opened in 1991, he said.
“This field station has more frogs and snake species around than
in all of Europe,” Wulffraat said.
Farther out from the field station there were still unmapped
“We found an area with trees with trunks one meter in diameter
and a huge canopy,” he said. “If the logging companies could get
there, they would be there in a minute.”
Until now, the forests at these higher elevations have been
protected by their sheer inaccessibility. To get back to the
coast from the research station, for instance, takes a 15-hour
journey along a 560-kilometer, or 350-mile, stretch of the Bahau
and Kayan rivers in a wooden longboat powered by three outboard
In contrast, the forests in lowland Kalimantan, where roads have
been hacked into the land, are so ravaged by logging they will
have disappeared by 2010, the World Bank says.
As the roads start penetrating Anyie’s area, the upland forests
will begin to disappear here, too. The solution to the dilemma
between the local people’s yearning for jobs and preserving the
forest was to persuade the logging companies and the government
to adopt sustainable management plans, Wulffraat said.
Such a plan would allow logging only in specially certified
areas, he said. But so far, he said, that had proved a losing
“In about 30 years,” said Anyie, the tribal elder, “the forest
will be gone.”
Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting for this article.