Mon, 17 Mar 2003

Bengkulu bans mining in protected forests

Ainur Sophian, The Jakarta Post, Surabaya, Bengkulu

The Bengkulu provincial administration has suspended indefinitely unauthorized gold mining in three local protected forest locations.

"The mining in the protected forest has been halted as we are afraid it will destroy the ecosystem," Bengkulu provincial administration spokesman Chairuddin said as quoted by Antara on Saturday

Besides, the ban would protect miners from the threat of landslides, he added.

The temporary ban applies in Lebong Tandai in North Bengkulu regency, and Lebong Sulit and Lebong Donok, both in Rejang Lebong regency.

Unauthorized mining has been rampant for many years and now affects the Kerinci Seblat National Park, which is a protected area.

The mining operations have created several large craters, endangering miners' safety and the environment.

Under Law No 41/1999 on forestry affairs, open pit mining is prohibited in protected forests.

However, the law also leaves open the possibility of a change in the status of protected forests into production forests so as to allow mining operations to go ahead.

Last year, for example, the House of Representatives allowed six mining companies to start operations in various protected forests after converting their status to production forests.

Chairuddin said the Bengkulu administration would still allow local people to continue mining activities in a number of locations, including Lebong Simpang, Lebong Tambang, Tambang Sawah and Ulu Ketenong in Rejang Lebong.

Separately, the destruction taking place in the R. Soeryo Forest Park, East Java, has reached alarming levels due to both man-made and natural causes.

Forest fires have destroyed 616 hectares of the park while land clearing has destroyed another 397 hectares.

The R. Soeryo Forest Park is located in three regencies, Malang, Pasuruan and Mojokerto, and covers a total area of 27,868 hectares. It is divided into four parts.

The first part is a protected area covering 23,000 hectares, the second, covering an area of 1,600 hectares, is used as a tree nursery, the third, covering an area of 2,600 hectares, is an intensive utilization area, while the fourth, covering 4,800 hectares, is allocated for traditional utilization.

The forest park is also home to eco-tourism resorts such as Cangar in Mojokerto, Kota Batu, and Mt. Welirang.

Susilo Sugiono, head of the East Java forestry agency, said he would take the necessary measures to minimize the destruction of the forest park.

In the short term, he said, his agency would continue to monitor river flows and check dams. In the long term, his agency would carry out reforestation in several critical areas, starting in November or December.

Through reforestation, the forest could regain its double function as a natural disaster control area and an eco-tourism attraction, he explained.

Susilo said his office had prioritized the rehabilitation of the Pacet area after the recent mudslide disaster that killed dozens of people.