Indonesia: Riau’s Zamrud forest named newest national park

Haeril Halim and Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 23 Jul 16;

The government on Friday celebrated World Environment Day (WED) by officially opening Zamrud National Park in Siak regency, Riau. The park aims to conserve the remaining forest and ecosystem against industry in the region, home to nearly 3 million hectares of palm oil and timber plantations for pulp and paper companies.

The decision of the Environment and Forestry Ministry to upgrade the status of the 31,000-ha peatland forest, which has two lakes inhabited by endangered species such as gold arowanas, from a wildlife reservation to a national park aims to ensure it is not converted for industrial use in the future.

In his speech for the event themed “Go Wild for Life”, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said massive industrial expansion in the forests of Riau had damaged the ecosystem and that the government would work to harmonize industrial and environmental policy.

“If the environment is exploited on a large scale for economic purposes, that will harm the environment. There must be harmony between the two,” Kalla said, adding that the environment needed to be preserved for the future of the Earth.

His comments were in line with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s pledge to impose a moratorium on new oil palm plantation licenses in light of severe deforestation, especially in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said the new status of the Zamrud forest would protect it from unlawful activities such as illegal logging and plantation encroachment.

“The existence of the Zamrud National Park is a boon for environmental sustainability,” Siti said.

Around 5.7 million ha of Riau’s total 9 million-ha area are peatland forest prone to annual fires.

The province made headlines in 2015 after being blanketed in choking smog for several months, causing respiratory problems in hundreds of local people and trillions of rupiahs in state losses from disruptions to economic activity. The haze also polluted neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

Friday’s event was the first time the government has held WED celebrations outside of Jakarta. Also on Friday, the Environment and Forestry Ministry gave out dozens of awards to local administrations, such as Surabaya and Surakarta cities, for their environmental achievements, a WED tradition.

“Zamrud is now the third national park in Riau after Bukit Tiga Puluh and Tesso Nilo national parks,” Siak Regent Syamsuar said, adding that the proposal to increase Zamrud’s status to national park had been submitted in 2002.

Zamrud, the regent claimed, is the only national park boasting pristine forest.

“The forest at Giam Siak Kecil has been destroyed by encroachment. If encroachers run out of room there, they will certainly move on to Zamrud. Even now, certain parties are attempting to claim land on the periphery of Zamrud. It is just a matter of time. That’s why we need to start protecting it now,” Syamsuar added.

He added that the deforestation at Tesso Nilo park in Pelalawan regency should serve as a lesson for the government.

“We strove to convince the Environment and Forestry Minister to grant national park status to Zamrud forest. If Zamrud forest is damaged, there’ll be no more forest in Siak,” the regent said.

Zamrud forest is home to 38 types of bird, of which 12 are endangered, as well as endangered mammals such as Sumatran tigers, deer and tapirs.

On Friday, the ministry freed three eagles and 56 gold arowanas in Zamrud to mark the conservation efforts.

Zamrud also contains major gas resources, which are currently being exploited by PT Bumi Siak Pusako and PT Pertamina Hulu.

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