Illegal logging and looting threaten Lampung's forests
By Hera Diani
LAMPUNG (JP): Like other provinces in Sumatra, Lampung is blessed with lush green forests which spread from the south near the Sunda Straits to its northern area that abuts Bengkulu.
The weather is especially nice at this time of year as rain has started to fall, emanating the aroma of wet soil and grass.
Like any other forest in Indonesia, Lampung's woodland hosts a wide variety of flora and fauna from the most common species to the very rare.
But this beauty and wonder of nature is slowly dwindling, giving way to the immediate demands brought about by the crisis sweeping the nation.
Forests in Sumatra's southernmost province, like other parts of the country, are threatened by illegal logging, looting and stealing.
In the efforts to combat these unlawful acts and preserve the natural habitat, forestry officials here are increasingly facing opposition and claims by the traditional community living in the area to their right to exploit the forest.
Whether motivated by simple greed or daily necessities exhorted by the economic crisis, officials have had to take heed of these claims at the cost of a dwindling forest.
Lampung is home to an estimated 1.15 million hectares of forest, of which some 415,000 hectares is allocated to two national parks -- South Bukit Barisan and Way Kambas -- sprawled across the province.
"But that total area of forest is data from before Aug. 23," warned Sjamsudin Rachmat who heads the provincial office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
"Afterward, there were some changes in the total forest area."
Sjamsudin admitted that the forest had decreased by some two percent or about 145,000 hectares.
He explained that much of it had been converted either as state land for non-forestry use or "granted" to the local community to be exploited for their benefit.
But a source from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry revealed that much of the area had been "forced" into being granted as the area was occupied by locals.
The local administration wanted to avoid a dispute and relinquished to the demands of the people there, the source said.
Sjamsudin did not touch on the issue, saying only: "At least the total area of forest here in Lampung is still larger than the minimum area required by the Forestry Law, which is 30.34 percent of the whole mainland".
Claims from the local community are a growing problem in maintaining a forested area.
Way Kambas National Park is also in danger of losing another 1,200 hectares of forest after the traditional community living on the outskirts of the park claimed they had a cultural right to the land.
Negotiations on the claim are ongoing.
The problem has been aggravated further as the laws on the issue contain certain ambiguities.
Looting is also another major problem.
Officials noted recently that as many as 6,000 hectares of 50,000 hectares of timber estate owned by timber company PT Inhutani had been looted.
"It was done by the community around the area, and also people from another province," Sjamsudin said.
The limited ability of forestry officials to protect the area has also meant increased illegal logging.
In early October, Lampung Forestry Agency confiscated 12 trucks carrying more than 150 cubic meters of timber which was to be smuggled into Java.
"Fifteen people have been arrested and are being held by the city police here," said the head of the agency, Nassery Achmad.
Sjamsudin said the province was prone to the illegal activity due to its strategic location.
"Accessibility is high here because being the southernmost province (in Sumatra), Lampung acts as a gateway to Java and vice versa," he said.
He also admitted that forestry related crimes, whether they were illegal logging, looting or stealing, often involved officials, forestry employees and police officers.
"But we leave it up to their respective unit or office to punish them," Sjamsudin said.
Primary efforts are focusing on "virgin" forests which make up some 40 to 60 percent of the total forest.
"These forests are fully protected," Sjamsudin said.
Other efforts are focusing on curbing residents from starting to exploit a forested area so they will not become dependent on it.
As a measure of diversion, the protected forest is buffered by plants which residents can use. This is done so people will not venture further to seek economic gains from the protected area.
Initially, mahogany trees (swietenia) were planted.
"But residents complained because the trees only produce timber. So, we planted other plants," Sjamsudin said.
Now, other plants which have greater diversity and economic value like damar (Agathis dammara), durian (Durio zibethinus) and petai (Parkia speciosa hask) are also planted.
"These are multipurpose species because besides having economic value, they also function in water preservation," he added.
For National Parks, the arrangement is based on three zones: the main zone, buffer zone and special zone.
Any activity is forbidden in the first zone, while in the second zone, only limited activities, such as education and research, are allowed.
Special zones are used for tourism activities and traditional areas in which the trees planted are endemic to the area.
"People can use this land but only for trees originating in the area," Sjamsudin said.
Security patrols are also conducted in the forests, but according to Sjamsudin manpower is limited.
"In South Bukit Barisan for example, there are only 60 staff members working in an area that large," he said.