Orangutan forest being logged despite Indonesian govt vow

Orangutan forest being logged despite Indonesian govt vow

A photo of Pongo tapanuliensis, identified as a new species of orangutan is shown, found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra where a small population inhabit its Batag Toru forest, according to researchers, on Nov 2, 2017. (Courtesy Andrew Walmsley/Handout via Reuters)
A photo of Pongo tapanuliensis, identified as a new species of orangutan is shown, found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra where a small population inhabit its Batag Toru forest, according to researchers, on Nov 2, 2017. (Courtesy Andrew Walmsley/Handout via Reuters)

JAKARTA: Environmentalists say a tropical forest that's home to critically endangered orangutans on Borneo island is being logged more than a year after Indonesia's forestry and environment ministry ordered a halt to the forest's exploitation.

Greenpeace said Tuesday its investigations at the Sungai Putri forest showed a logging operation underway with at least six illegal settlements that operate at night and some in areas with orangutan nests.

The 57,000-hectare forest, populated with as many as 1,200 orangutans, is testing the government's ability to enforce its moratorium on drainage and exploitation of Indonesia's extensive peatland forests, which was declared after massive dry season fires in 2015.

The fires, which destroyed 2.6 million hectares and swathed parts of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand in a health-wrecking haze, highlighted the huge risks that pulp wood and palm oil plantation companies have taken in draining swampy peatlands for industrial plantations, making them highly combustible. The World Bank estimated the fires caused losses of $16 billion.

The latest investigation is the second revelation in less than a year that commercial exploitation of the forest continues.

Photos and drone footage taken by activists in July showed an extensive drainage canal full of water, heavy earth-moving equipment on the land and planting of pulp wood tree seedlings despite an order in March from the Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya for the company responsible to cease operations.

“This is a major embarrassment for the Indonesian government, which has consistently promised to protect Sungai Putri,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

The ministry's director-general of law enforcement and its director of environmental disputes did not respond to calls or text messages. The ForestHints website, a semi-official news site for the ministry, said in a June 1 article that Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has “displayed great consistency” in making sure Sungai Putri is not cleared. It said the forest would “unquestionably have been destroyed” without the ministry's previous sanctions.

Exploitation of the Sungai Putri forest and Chinese investment in a related wood-processing plant is supported by provincial and district officials in West Kalimantan province on Borneo.

An Indonesian company, Moharison Pawan Khatulistiwa, has a forestry ministry permit for logging in the forest, and a forestry ministry-approved work plan, which are now overridden by the moratorium on peatland development. It didn't respond to calls.

Greenpeace said it was unclear whether the company was carrying out the logging or if other parties had taken advantage of roads built by the company to further encroach on the forest. The wood was supplying sawmills and furniture businesses in the Ketapang region of West Kalimantan, it said.


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