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Landmark law saves rainforest

Major law change in Indonesia has borne fruit and is paving the way for a ground-breaking project to save one of the world’s most precious wildlife hotspots.

The government decree, being enacted for the first time, means Burung Indonesia, the RSPB and BirdLife International can halt logging on a 101,000-hectare (250,000-acre) area of lowland rainforest hosting 267 bird species, the Sumatran tiger, the Asian elephant and the newly identified clouded leopard.

It has taken more than five years for the groups, working with the Indonesian government, to win the right to manage the newly named Harapan Rainforest, an area that was likely to be felled and replaced with timber plantations or oil palm.

The forest should now recover and more trees will be planted, replacing those logged in the past. Conservationists are confident that the site – which is two-thirds the size of greater London - will one day return to its original state.

Graham Wynne, Chief Executive of the RSPB, said: “It is difficult to express just how significant this breakthrough is. There have been many times in the last five years when our hopes of saving Harapan Rainforest had all but ebbed away.

“Almost all of Harapan Rainforest has been logged to some extent in the last 60 years and some of its species have been staring extinction in the face. But all of the forest can still recover and, thanks to the work of Burung Indonesia and the Indonesian government, every single species it hosts now has a toehold on survival. Harapan Rainforest is to become a beacon of hope for forests across Indonesia and beyond.”

Until now, sites earmarked for timber production or plantation crops in Indonesia could be used for nothing else. But the ecosystem restoration decree, which was introduced by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, permits the management of forests to obtain benefits labelled ‘ecosystem services’.

These include storing carbon, controls on pollution and protection for wildlife, all of which will help nearby human communities. Directly benefiting will be the 150-strong Batin Sembilan tribe, a nomadic people that will continue to harvest rubber, honey, fruits and rattan for its own use.

Sukianto Lusli, Executive Director of Burung Indonesia, said: “Now these people have a choice for their future. With intact forest remaining, they will have the choice of maintaining their traditional lifestyles. They will also have the option of becoming wildlife monitors or forest wardens, as will other people in the local area.”

Conservationists expect to find thousands of plant and animal species in Harapan Rainforest. Sumatran lowland rainforest is already known to boast more diverse flora than any other place in the world. There are 37 species of mammal including seven big cats, five primate species, sun bears, Sumatran otters and Malayan porcupines. Turtles and other reptiles are also numerous.

The Storm’s stork is the most threatened bird species found so far – there may be only 250 left in the wild. Of other birds found in Harapan Rainforest, 66 are at risk including the rhinoceros hornbill, rufous-collared kingfisher and great argus pheasant. Up to 30 more bird species could be identified in new surveys later this year.

Mr Lusli said: “We expect big dividends for wildlife from this project. Sumatra’s lowland forest is already a hotspot for rare species and this initiative will make it even better. It will bring hope for species at risk of extinction.”

Marco Lambertini, Director of Network and Programmes for BirdLife International, said: “Indonesia suffers from some notoriety for its rapid deforestation. However the Harapan Rainforest initiative, and the Indonesian government’s support for it, could mark a turning point for the country’s forests, a new hope for their conservation. Their biodiversity, their role in the mitigation of global warming as well as regulating local climate and preventing floods, make their protection relevant for both the local as well as the global community. We will work towards every success in this initiative, and hope that others follow.”

Graham Wynne said: “This is a ground-breaking project achieved with the full support of the Indonesian government. It is hugely significant not just for rainforest conservation in Asia but for other parts of the world as well.”

Cath Harris | alfa
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