Best of our wild blogs: 21 May 11

Neo Mei Lin’s Giant Clam talk reaches the Twitterverse!
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

First reef survey of 2011
from Compressed air junkie

Drawings by our visitors
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Mollusc marvels on Changi, and more signs of dugong?
from wild shores of singapore and Singapore Nature

Pretty creatures of Beting Bronok
from wonderful creation and Singapore Nature

Oriental Magpie Robin mimics call of Black-naped Oriole?
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Singapore's Rhino Beetles
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Dragonfly (6a) - Orchithemis Pulcherrima, Male
from Nature Photography - Singapore Odonata

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Indonesia logging law 'disaster' for forests: analysts

Stephen Coates Yahoo News 20 May 11;

JAKARTA (AFP) – Environmentalists said Friday a long-awaited moratorium on logging in Indonesia, part of a $1 billion climate deal with Norway, is a "disaster" for forests and will do little to fight global warming.

Indonesia banned logging in primary forests and peatlands for two years on Thursday under a deal announced in Oslo in 2010 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation while protecting rich biodiversity.

But environmentalists doubted whether the long-awaited moratorium would save any significant forests that were not already protected, or make any reductions to the massive archipelago's carbon footprint.

"We are very disappointed. We're concerned because it only covers primary forests and peatlands," Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Bustar Maitar said.

He said the moratorium should also protect woodlands defined as "natural forests", but these had been left at the mercy of the logging companies.

Chris Lang, author of the REDD-monitor blog which tracks efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, said the moratorium was a "disaster for Indonesia?s forests, indigenous peoples and local communities".

He said the moratorium decree announced by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono late Thursday -- five months after it was due to be in place -- contained "gaping loopholes".

There were exemptions for existing logging concessions and those that only had in-principle approval, as well as for "national development" projects such as geothermal power plants and key food crops.

Green groups say forests covered by such concessions store vast amounts of carbon and contain habitats of endangered species such as orangutans and Sumatran tigers.

The moratorium applies to about 88 million hectares (217.5 million acres) of primary forest and peatland, but Maitar said that according to Greenpeace's maps such areas actually covered 104 million hectares.

Elfian Effendi, executive director of forestry policy analysis group Greenomics, said the moratorium "still creates potential for Indonesia to destroy its natural forests".

The regulations have been the subject of intense lobbying from the pulp, paper and palm oil industries, which tried to limit the reach of the moratorium while protecting their vast logging concessions.

Presidential advisor on climate change Agus Purnomo told reporters logging would be banned in "forests that haven't been touched by humans and where there has been no concession activity before".

"Indonesia has been on the right track, heading into a prosperous and sustainable future, and will not return to past development practices that damage the environment at the expense of future generations," he said.

The moratorium is part of a national effort to combat climate change through a UN-backed scheme known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

REDD promises to slow the release of greenhouse gases from the destruction of forests and carbon-dense peatlands by having rich nations pay emerging countries to preserve their jungles and woods.

Rampant deforestation is one of the main reasons Indonesia is the third biggest greenhouse gas emitter behind the United States and China.

The Indonesian government has set goals to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent while at the same time doubling palm oil production by 2020. It is already the world's biggest palm oil exporter.

Indonesia forest moratorium softens blow for planters
Reuters AlertNet 20 May 11;
* Excludes permits given in principle, permit extensions
* Excludes geothermal, oil, gas, power plants, rice, sugar
* Two-year moratorium does not offer compensation
* Palm oil stocks mostly rise, SMART up 6 pct (Adds Norway declines comment, RSPO statement, factbox)

Olivia Rondonuwu and Michael Taylor

JAKARTA, May 20 (Reuters) - Indonesia revealed a long list of exemptions on Friday to a two-year moratorium on new permits to clear forest, a concession to the hard-lobbying plantation industry in the world's top palm oil producing nation that vexed green groups.

The moratorium, taking effect on Friday after a five-month delay, will exempt permits already given in principle by the forestry ministry and extensions of existing permits, as well as projects to develop supplies of energy, rice and sugar.

The exemptions were wider than expected after pressure from firms worried about expansion and a forestry ministry concerned about losing billions each year in revenue from chopping down forests in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

"There was lots of pressure on the Indonesian government from the palm oil industry about this ban since we bring in significant investments. Today's final details show that agreeable concessions have been made," said a Malaysian planter with assets in Indonesia, who declined to be identified.

However, the moratorium will not provide compensation for firms unable to expand into protected land. It ordered a freeze on new permits to log or convert 64 million hectares (158 million acres) of primary forests and peatlands.

This is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation under a $1 billion climate deal with Norway, but the final version was a let down for environmentalists hoping for wider protection of carbon-rich peat and endemic wildlife.

"This is a bitter disappointment. It will do little to protect Indonesia's forests and peatlands. Seventy-five percent of the forests purportedly protected by this moratorium are already protected under existing Indonesian law, and the numerous exemptions further erode any environmental benefits," said Paul Winn of Greenpeace Australia-Pacific.

Norway's environment ministry declined comment on the moratorium. Officials said they were still studying the details.

But industry body the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) praised the signing of the moratorium, as it targets annual 10 percent increases in green palm supplies.

"It is an affirmative step in the right direction that upholds the integrity of sustainable practices towards the production of palm oil, and reaffirms the country's commitment in this area," Darrel Webber, secretary general at the RSPO said in a statement.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday also signed a decree to allow underground mining activities in protected forests for 20 years, provided conditions such as an environmental assessment have been met, likely to further upset green groups but provide relief for miners such as Newmont , Eramet and Bumi Resources .

Yudhoyono's adviser on climate change, Agus Purnomo, said the forest moratorium will not hinder planters' expansion.

"There is no limitation for those who want to develop business-based plantations. We are not banning firms for palm oil expansion. We are just advising them to do so on secondary forests," Purnomo told a news conference.

Joko Supriyono, secretary general at the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki), told Reuters that uncertainty over the plan had slowed expansion last year to 300,000 hectares of palm oil plantations, from a minimum of 500,000 hectares in recent years.

"It won't put a lot of downward pressure on the (palm oil) sector. There is plenty of land available to plant palm oil or other crops. The land is there -- you can plant plantations in environmentally agreeable areas assuming there is access to infrastructure," said Andreas Bokkenheuser, Singapore-based commodities analyst at UBS.

Shares of Indonesia-listed plantation firms mostly rose on Friday to outperform a steady Jakarta index . Astra Agro Lestari was up 0.6 percent and SMART climbed 6.3 percent, though Gozco fell as much as 1.3 percent.

Gozco's palm oil output is set to rise more than 30 percent this year and it has permits for 56 percent of its landbank, but expansion in the rest could be hit by the moratorium, an executive told Reuters on Thursday.


The forestry ministry has defined primary forest as forest that has grown naturally for hundreds of years, of which there is estimated to be around 44 million hectares in a sprawling tropical archipelago where illegal logging is common.

The exclusion of rice, sugar, oil, gas and power plant projects shows the importance of food and energy security to the government of the G20 member, aiming to feed the world's fourth-largest population and fuel GDP growth of more than 6 percent.

The country's efforts to achieve self-sufficiency served it well in the financial crisis, since a lack of reliance on exports -- unlike many Asian countries -- kept its economy growing and led to it becoming an investor darling on the brink of a coveted sovereign investment grade rating.

The country still surprised markets with bumper rice imports early this year, and relies on sugar imports. Firms such as top listed palm oil planter Wilmar and investment firm Rajawali Group are planning to grow sugar plantations in the lushly forested eastern Papua province.

The moratorium's long delay came as government ministries wrangled over how much forest to include, a symbol of the long-running tension between a nationalistic business old guard and more internationally minded reformers in the government.

The dispute showed how difficult it will be for Indonesia to reach a target of slashing emissions by at least 26 percent by 2020 while still spurring economic growth.

The moratorium was still seen as a step in the right direction for efforts to develop projects to cut emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases, in the absence of an agreement on a new global climate pact following years of U.N. talks.

"There are a lot exclusions there but there is a conscience. It gives the basis from which they can build on to reduce their emissions," said Jonathan Barratt, managing director of Commodity Broking Services in Sydney. (Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage in KUALA LUMPUR, David Fogarty in SINGAPORE and Alister Doyle in OSLO; Writing by Neil Chatterjee; Editing by Ramthan Hussain)

Environmentalists Criticize Indonesia’s Plan to Save Forests
Aubrey Belford New York Times 20 May 11;

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia on Friday released the details of a $1 billion program to curb forest destruction and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but environmentalists said the plan gave industry too much leeway to continue clearing vital ecosystems.

The initiative, in the form of a decree signed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, commits Indonesia to a two-year moratorium on new permits to clear about 158 million acres of virgin forest and carbon-rich peatland.

The plan had its origins in a climate conference in Oslo in May 2010. It links the $1 billion in financing to “verified emissions reductions” as part of the effort known as Reduced Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation, which is backed by the United Nations. Under the accord, developed countries help pay for the preservation of forests in developing countries.

Scheduled to begin in January, the moratorium was delayed as environmentalists and climate scientists pressed the government to increase the amount of land that would be off limits to new development. Powerful industries and some government departments pushed back.

The moratorium has been promoted as a landmark step in tackling climate change by reducing deforestation, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The initiative has been seen as a rare bright spot among stalled efforts to reduce worldwide emissions.

The moratorium — which does not affect existing forestry concessions and also allows for the development in virgin forest of some mining and agriculture projects deemed of vital national interest — has left neither environmentalists nor the affected industries entirely satisfied. But the government said the compromise was a step in reversing Indonesia’s record of unchecked clearing of tropical forests.

“I guess everybody has their own expectations,” said Agus Purnomo, Mr. Yudhoyono’s special adviser on climate change. Referring to nongovernmental organizations, he added, “The NGOs, the international community, they would like to see all permits in all forests be suspended.”

“That’s never been the intention,” he said. “All we’ve committed to is natural forests — that is, forests in good standing, untouched by humans.”

Mr. Purnomo said the moratorium was a first step for Indonesia to reach its goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions — the third highest in the world by some counts — by at least 26 percent by 2020. Other major measures, like a financing mechanism for anti-deforestation projects and an agency to oversee emission reduction efforts, are still being planned.

The environmental group Greenpeace said the moratorium showed that Indonesia had committed itself to the rhetoric of forest conservation, but it contended that compromises to powerful land-clearing industries like palm oil and pulp and paper would undercut the effort.

“Actually, it’s really a bit disappointing,” said Bustar Maitar, a leading forest activist at Greenpeace. “For sure, industry will be happy with this. This is part of their strong lobbying.”

Aida Greenbury, managing director of Asia Pulp and Paper, one of Indonesia’s largest paper producers, called the plan “a step forward.” But she said it needed to be followed by government action on promises to clear up Indonesia’s confusing system of land classification. The system makes it unclear just what is virgin forest and what is “degraded” land, which is considered to have lower environmental value.

Louis Verchot, chief climate scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research, based in Indonesia, cautioned that the moratorium was only a first step in addressing the long-term need to reduce emissions. “This guarantees a reduction in emissions, but it doesn’t guarantee Indonesia is going to meet its targets,” he said. “This should not be construed in any way as the mechanism by which Indonesia is going to meet its emissions reductions commitments.”

Activists Cry Foul as 35% of Forests Avoid Permits Freeze
Fidelis E Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 21 May 11;

Sighs of relief from activists on Thursday that a long-awaited two-year moratorium on forest clearance permits had finally been signed were drowned out on Friday after it emerged that more than a third of Indonesia’s forest area will not be covered.

“The announcement is a far cry from the commitment made by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono related to forest protection and leads to big questions on its implementation,” said Bustar Maitar, a Greenpeace forest campaigner.

A presidential adviser on climate change on Thursday said that Yudhoyono had finally signed the two-year moratorium that had been scheduled to have come into effect in January. But after details of the moratorium were released at a news conference on Friday, discontent was on the rise.

Bustar voiced anger that the moratorium only covered primary forests and peatland, which were already protected by the law. “[There are] still millions of hectares of Indonesia’s forests that will be destroyed,” he said.

A map attached to the moratorium documents shows that 64.2 million hectares of primary forest and 31.9 million hectares of peatland were covered, but not 36.6 million hectares of secondary forest. Primary forest is untouched by agriculture or industry, secondary forest is part of areas that have been partially cleared for agricultural or industrial use.

“Greenpeace has estimated that 104.8 million hectares of forest should be included in the moratorium,” Bustar added.

Giorgio Budi Indrarto, program manager for forest and climate at the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, said the moratorium was inadequate. “The primary forests in Indonesia are declining, but the total area [covered by them] is open to question. [Areas] called primary forest include the national parks. So, what’s the use of the permit moratorium if it only covers primary forests [as these are mostly protected already]?” he said.

The 1999 Forestry Law, Giorgio said, did not contain any reference to primary forest and instead used the terms protected forest, conservation forest and production forest to describe areas where varying degrees of human activity were allowed.

“How is it that something that did not [legally] exist suddenly becomes recognized?” he said, noting that the government was not consistent in its use of legal terms.

Teguh Surya, head of climate justice at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said the term had no prior legal basis. “It is only a technical definition which is only used to define the levels of forest degradation and should not be put into context of policy or issuing permits,” Teguh said.

He also said the moratorium should not have been issued in the form of a presidential instruction [Inpres].

“A presidential instruction is only the president’s instruction to individual government officials” and therefore lacks the authority of, for instance, a full-blown law, he said.

Giorgio said there was also the problem of companies eying underground mining concessions in protected forests that already received a “permit in principle” from the Forestry Ministry and would thus not be covered by the moratorium. He pointed out these were not actual permits, suggesting there should be a possibility to not grant such companies permission to advance.

“In the past, a decision approved ‘in principle’ could always be changed,” Giorgio said.

He also said that the moratorium contained no instruction to law enforcers, “as if all the complexity of forest issues in the country can be solved by administrative means only.”

Four kinds of exceptions to apply in forest clearing moratorium
Antara 20 May 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government is to make four kinds of exceptions in the implementation of Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011 on Moratorium on New Logging Concessions for Primary Forests and Peat lands, a presidential aide said.

"In enforcing the moratorium, the government will make certain exceptions," Agus Purnomo, the President`s Special Assistant on Climate Change, said here Friday.

The first category of exceptions would be on logging concessions covered by "in principle" permits from the forestry minister. Also exempted from the moratorium would be forest clearing to make room for vital national development projects, namely geothermal, oil and gas explorations and exploitation, electricity, paddy fields and sugarcane plantations.

The third category of exceptions would be on areas covered by extended development permits as long the concession holder`s business license was still valid.

The moratorium would also not apply to forest clearing to be done in the interest of ecosystem restoration.

"So if there is a degraded forest that needs to be restored, the moratorium can be ignored," Agus Purnomo said.

The presidential decree on a moratorium on logging concessions for two years was only applicable to primary forests and peat lands in conserved forests, protected forests, production forests and the Other Use Land (APL).

This meant that logging concessions still could be issued on secondary forests.

Based on forestry ministry 2010 data, Indonesia has 64.2 million hectares of primary forests, 24.5 million hectares of peat lands. Meanwhile, 7.4 million hectares of peat lands are located inside primary forests.

Secondary forests cover a total area of 36.6 million hectares.

"The data could change any time," Agus said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has already signed a regulation that imposes a moratorium on forest clearing activity, according to Agus Purnomo earlier.

"The President has said he signed a presidential regulation declaring a moratorium on forest clearing activity," Agus Purnomo said here Thursday.

Agus, however, could not give more detailed information on the regulation because the document was still in the hands of the cabinet secretary, and he had not yet received a copy of the regulation.

The presidential regulation signed by the head of state was a combination and simplification of two drafts proposed respectively by the forestry ministry and the UN REDD Task Force, Agus said.

The moratorium on new concessions in peatland and primary forests is part of a Letter of Intent (LOI) between Indonesia and Norway, called the Oslo Accord. (f001/B/HAJM/17:15/f001)


Editor: Ella Syafputri

Forest Moratorium Too Harsh For Some, Too Weak for Others
Fidelis E Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 21 May 11;

While forest activists were denouncing a government moratorium on new concession in forests as disappointing, a palm oil businessman on Friday said the regulation went too far and only created more uncertainty for businesses.

On Thursday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a presidential instruction ordering the Forestry Ministry, governors, and district heads to stop issuing new logging concession in primary forests and peatlands for the next two years.

But green activists said the moratorium was only applicable to only 64 million hectares of the country’s 132 million hectare forest coverage. And now Joko Supriyono, secretary general of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) bemoaned the fact the business world had not been consulted.

Joko said the moratorium included forested areas known as APL, which are forests that can be used for other purposes such as plantations or mining.

He said that the moratorium covered 3.6 million hectares of APL in primary forests and another 9.7 million hectares in peatland.Joko also lashed out at the moratorium for putting peatland off limits for new concessions.

“Now, all peatlands are banned for two years, including peatlands less than three meters deep that are currently allowed under a Ministry of Agriculture and presidential decision,” he said.

He added in neighboring Malaysia, palm oil plantations were permitted on peatland of any depth.

“It’s just too weird to have a moratorium on peatland.”

Joko said the moratorium could generate further conflict because the definition of primary and secondary forest was not clear.

“In addition, the map attached to the moratorium will bring more dispute because it’s going to be a reference, even though there is a provincial spatial plan.”

The spatial plan, he said differentiated between forest and plantation areas while the moratorium’s map did not.

The two year new permit moratorium will also affect palm oil expansion plans and cause job losses, he said.

“We are targeting 600,000 hectares of expansion per year, but with the two year moratorium, we could lose at least 200,000 to 300,000 hectares,” he said, adding it would translate into losing 50,000 to 80,000 jobs and two million tons of production.

However, Muhammad Teguh Surya, head of climate justice at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said the moratorium would be hard to implement in full because it did not involve two significant ministries, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Energy.

“Those two ministries have a crucial role in deforestation practices,” Teguh said. “We think this was done deliberately so that palm oil and mining people can still convert natural forests in the name of profit.”

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Malaysia and Indonesia bolster defence of palm oil industry to west

Countries form European Palm Oil Council in attempt to counter criticism of industry's environmental record
Rikke Bruntse-Dahl 20 May 11;

Malaysia and Indonesia, which together account for about 90% of the world's palm oil production, have launched a joint PR offensive to defend the industry's environmental record.

Late last week, ministers from the two countries agreed to finalise plans for a European Palm Oil Council (EPOC) by the end of this year, to defend the trade of palm oil to the European Union and counter the "anti-palm oil campaign". The industry has been accused by environmental groups of destroying biodiversity and causing social conflicts, deforestation and climate change.

In a joint communique, the countries said: "This body will provide the industry [with] a collective platform to represent both countries on public debates that relate to palm oil issues such as sustainability, energy security, public health, address NGOs' anti palm-oil campaigns, non-aligned lobby groups, media, journalists and feedbacks of Members of the European Parliament."

In another move to promote palm oil to the western market, Bernard Dompok, minister of plantation industries and commodities in Malaysia and Dr Suswono Asyraf, minister of agriculture in Indonesia, will visit Washington DC next week. They will discuss barriers to palm oil trade with the US secretaries of agriculture and energy, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US secretary of commerce and US-ASEAN business.

Dompok told the Borneo Post the initiative was "a continuation of a similar mission to the EU in November 2010".

"When we were doing our joint mission, we met some members of parliament who didn't know what an oil palm tree looks like. I think we should really work together and talk to them as a team," he said.

Critics are sceptical the new push will quell the fears related to palm oil production. Friends of the Earth's biofuels campaigner, Kenneth Richter, said: "No amount of PR will alter the facts about palm oil. The UN says it's one of the leading drivers of deforestation in south-east Asia – trashing rainforest and wildlife. Just last month evidence surfaced that IOI – one of the biggest Malaysian palm oil producers – is involved in illegal deforestation and land rights conflicts."

Gurmit Singh, founder of the centre for environment, technology and development, Malaysia (CETDEM), an environmental NGO, said: "The truth is, both sides are over-generalising – the palm oil industry as well as the NGOs in the north. NGOs need to be careful not to tar all palm oil producers with the same brush – not all palm oil plantations have caused deforestation and loss of biodiversity.

"What is needed is not more pro- or anti-palm oil PR, but accountability and transparency and an effective chain of custody for palm oil. Everyone – NGOs, palm oil producers and the media – has the responsibility to report the truth and ultimately the consumer will decide."

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Study: Plantations threaten forest species

UPI 20 May 11;

LONDON, May 20 (UPI) -- Oil palm plantations in Malaysia are causing forest fragmentation that threatens wildlife and multiple levels of biodiversity, researchers say.

Scientists from Queen Mary University of London, studying bats as an indicator of environmental change, say they're worried that unless steps are taken to safeguard and manage the remaining forest, certain species will struggle to survive, a university release reported Friday.

The team conducted bat surveys in pristine forest and also in areas of fragmented forest resulting from increased clearing of land for oil palm plantations.

They recorded the numbers of different species present.

"We found that smaller forest areas support fewer species, and that those species that remain face an eventual decline, potentially leading to local extinction in the long-term," researcher Mathew Struebig said.

They found that fragmentation appeared to have an even greater impact on genetic loss, vital for long-term population viability.

"We found that in order to retain the numbers of bat species seen in pristine forest, forest patches had to be larger than 650 hectares (1,600 acres), however to retain comparable levels of genetic diversity, areas needed to be greater than 10,000 hectares (24,000 acres)," he said.

The findings could have important implications for forest management in the face of ever-growing demand for oil palm plantations, the researchers said.

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