Indonesia: East Kalimantan Forest Now in ‘Very Poor’ Condition

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 18 May 12;

Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan. One of the largest tracts of protected forest in Indonesia has been decimated by illegal loggers and miners to the extent that it no longer holds any scientific value, a researcher said on Thursday.

Chandra Boer, director of the Tropical Forest Research Center at Mulawarman University in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, said the patch of forest in Kutai Kartanegara district was now in “very poor” condition.

The 20,271-hectare research forest, inside the Bukit Suharto community forest, has for years been used by forestry students at Mulawarman for study purposes, thanks to its high biodiversity.

Now just 6,000 hectares remain intact, with the rest razed by loggers, miners and property developers, Chandra said.

He added that these commercial activities had spilled over from other parts of the 61,850-hectare community forest, where 22 companies have been granted concessions, despite the forest being protected for conservation.

Thirteen of those concessions include parts of the university’s forest.

“In the state that it’s in, you can’t call Bukit Suharto a conservation forest anymore,” Chandra said. “It’s been mined so extensively and there are many settlements inside it.”

Kahar Al Bahri, the coordinator of the East Kalimantan branch of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), agreed that mining in the forest had reached “alarming levels.”

He said Jatam had reported several companies to the police for illegal mining, but there had been no effort by the authorities to stop the practice.

Andi Harun, a deputy speaker of the provincial legislature, said he would call the Mulawarman rector to testify about the damage to the university’s research forest.

He said university officials would be questioned about reportedly approving the logging and mining operations in their forest.

“We will summon the rector in the near future to clarify the issue of the university’s recommendation for commercial activities,” Andi said.

“How is it that they could allow mining inside the forest when it’s clearly meant for students to carry out research?”

The status of the Bukit Suharto forest has changed several times since it was established in 1976, initially as a production forest. Since then, it has been designated a partially protected tourism forest and now a community forest, where commercial forestry activities are prohibited.