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URGENT: HELP STOP ILLEGAL LOGGING NOW DESTROYING THE SWAMP FOREST AT SUAQ BALIMBING RESEARCH STATION, SUMATRA, INDONESIA
Profiting from Plunder: How Malaysia Smuggles Endangered Wood (pdf). 4 February 2004. By the Environmental Investigation Agency and Telapak. (Summary in html.) "Indonesia has patently failed to tackle the illegal logging crisis. The vast majority of illegal ramin coming out of Sumatra is believed to be controlled by one man, nicknamed “Jambi Lee”, who like other timber barons across the country can operate with impunity due to endemic corruption."
30 April 2002. EIA Report: Indonesia is still detaining three ships loaded with logs illegally taken from Tanjung Puting National Park, Borneo, but a general is attempting to have them released. (The appropriate bribes obviously having been paid.)
October 2001: The Sumatran Orangutan Society website states: "Reports suggest that there is currently no logging activity in and around the temporarily closed Research Station at Suaq Balimbing. This is due to the guerilla war in Aceh. It is feared that the illegal logging which took place previously may have serious implications for the orangutans living in the area. [And of course for other wildlife dependent on undisturbed peat swamp forest.]
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies old growth logging in Sumatra. Wildlife biology is not taken into account by the FSC, which provides cover for the some of the world's most destructive lumber companies by certifying unsustainable old-growth logging as "sustainable." See exposé on the FSC from The Ecologist, July/August 2001. (pdf)
6 July 2001: Sumatra is on fire yet again -- so there still are some trees left to burn. "Haze returns to Kuala Lumpur." Straits Times.
Illegal Logging in Indonesia's Protected Areas, a report by E.O. Colijn. [Dead URL]. Loggers are using 300 water buffalos to drag out the ancient trees at the Ketambe Research Station in Gunung Leuser National Park. That was the most impressive forest I saw on Sumatra, but it consisted of upland, terra firma forest and was not nearly as rich in birdlife as the formerly undisturbed swamp forest at Suaq.
One of the richest lowland forests in southeast Asia, the until recently undisturbed peat swamp forest at the Suaq Balimbing Research Station, in Gunung Leuser National Park, north Sumatra, Indonesia, has come under assault by loggers operating in collaboration with the corrupt Indonesian authorities. This is the site discovered by Carel van Schaik of Duke University in the early 1990s, where the population density of Orangutans is (was) more than double that of any other known place, with as many as 20 individuals per square mile. Here Orangutans for the first time were discovered to be regular tool users.
Following is an excerpt from Habitat Seen Playing Larger Role in Shaping Behavior, by Dennis Normile, Science 1998; 279:1454-1455:
I have not received reports of any bird surveys of Suaq, but would not be surprised if it were found to have the greatest number of species per square km of any site in Sumatra. All the mega-wildlife of Sumatra still survives (or survived before 1999) in the area, including Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhinoceros, and Asian Elephant.
Suaq Balimbing, which means "Starfruit Swamp", is located near the west coast of Sumatra, across the western mountain range and southwest of Kutacane. See Suaqbakong on Peter Loud's Map. Suaq is considerably wetter and richer in wildlife than Ketambe, which is in the interior valley along the river and main highway north of Kutacane.
On 17 June 1999, the French AFP wire service carried an article reporting that one-fourth of the study area had already been illegally logged, and quoting from a letter by Michelle Merrill, a doctoral student of Dr. van Schaik, that "Yesterday chainsaws were felling trees along the river at the base camp. We could see some of the trees falling and heard trees crashing down at a rate of one every three to four minutes."
The article also quoted Kathryn Monk, Research Coordinator of the Leuser Management Unit which oversees Suaq: "We have been notifying the local government, we had meetings with the vice-governor and all the relevant authorities and drew their attention to the general increase in illegal logging, and some particular very severe cases like Suaq. Yet nothing has been done and there is always the same lack of compliance and enforcement of the law."
Michelle Merrill has set up a webpage about this ongoing environmental disaster, dated 7 May 1999, entitled An Open Letter to All Friends of Wildlife. She includes addresses of various functionaries in Indonesia to whom she recommends writing. In an UPDATE, dated 6 July 1999, she reported that in response to international pressure, the Indonesian authorities told the loggers not to cut any more living trees in the research area, but some illegal logging continued nevertheless, along with removal of trees already felled and continued illegal logging throughout the Park. The number of loggers in the research area declined to about 100 from 200 at the peak, as they no doubt were deployed elsewhere. In September 1999, the Suaq research station was closed due to civil unrest.
In June, 1999, Prof. van Schaik issued a press release entitled SITUATION AT ORANGUTAN STATION SUAQ BALIMBING CRITICAL; ORANGUTAN VIABILITY IN THE WILD INCREASINGLY QUESTIONABLE.
Some other websites pertaining to Suaq and the primate research by Carel van Schaik and his team of scientists include:
Kalimantan's peatland disaster: Greed and stupidity destroy the last peatland wilderness, home to thousands of orangutan. By Jack Rieley, Inside Indonesia 65, Jan-Mar 2001.
Suharto's Fires: Suharto cronies control an ASEAN-wide oil palm industry with an appalling environmental record. By George J. Aditjondro, Inside Indonesia 65, Jan-Mar 2001.
Special Report on Bob Hasan and Indonesian forest destruction. The Gallon Environment Letter, Vol 5, No. 2. January 2001.
Orangutan numbers plummeting worldwide: species may vanish in ten years, study says. WCS, 26 February 2001.
CBS "60 Minutes" preparing program [maybe spiking program] on the vicious assault on British investigators at Tanjung Puting National Park by employees of Indonesian politician and timber baron Abdul Rasyid.
Logging and poaching in Indonesian reserves have accelerated in the power vacuum since the collapse of the Suharto government last year. In Aceh, where Gunung Leuser is located, there have been several attacks by local resistance groups on police and military, with many deaths. As a result, the situation is said to be very tense, and it is reported to be unlikely that the government will send police or military to protect the reserve or it inhabitants.
There have other recent reports about illegal logging, mining and poaching in Tanjung Puting (map), Kerinchi, Way Kambas, and Bukit Barisan Selatan, including involvement by local politicians and military. (E.g., 3 Chestnut-capped Thrushes, Zoothera interpres from Bukit Barisan Selatan observed in bird market in Kota Agung, 8/98 (OBC Bull. 29:53); military official arrested for hunting tigers in Way Kambas and selling skins for five million rupiah, (OBC Bull. 29:18); 14 tigers poached at Kerinchi with military/police involvement, 11/99 (AFP).) The same activities undoubtedly are occurring at other reserves lacking international researchers to report to the outside world.
It's difficult to image what can be done to save Suaq, which may already have suffered irreparable harm. This is an example of an international environmental crisis that calls for international assistance and coordination. Yet, to the United States government, international relations now consist of dropping radioactive bombs on other countries too small and too far away to retaliate. With the $50 Million per day recently spent demolishing Serbia (the "War of the Stained Blue Dress"), the entire population of Aceh could have been sent on a pilgrimage to Mecca and the reserves effectively policed.
The only way to conserve forest in Indonesia may be for conservationists to bribe whoever happens to be in control locally more than the loggers, poachers and miners, or to bribe the central government to undertake military operations to protect the parks. Simply asking corrupt officials to enforce their laws almost certainly will continue to be futile unless it can be made more profitable than not enforcing the laws. See "Dirty Work: How to get business done in one of the most corrupt countries in the world [Indonesia]", by Michael V. Copeland, Red Herring, October 2000.
At the least, bidding should be undertaken (in secret, of course) to determine the sums that would have to be paid. Bribes paid by birders to visit Indonesian reserves have been small, although there are reports of recent increases, and it is said that the rule of thumb for commissions paid by Chinese businesses to be left alone is 10%. Thus, it's not unlikely that logging and plantation interests also are paying nominal amounts for their legal and illegal concessions.
Unfortunately, even when foreign conservation organizations have paid the Indonesian government for specific conservation projects, the authorities have taken the money, but quite blatantly sold the resources they promised to protect to local extractive interests. The best example is the Bali Starling, the international symbol of the complete failure of Indonesian nature conservation. Despite millions of dollars paid by organizations including the WWF to conserve the starling, the local military boss at Bali Barat National Park continued to sell trapping rights, and trapping was carried out openly even in the presence of visiting delegations. As of September 2001, there are only 6 or 7 birds remaining in the wild, and most captive birds at the local captive breeding project have been stolen in two armed robberies.
Here's a good illustration of the way Indonesia works:
"Over the weekend, ExxonMobil's Indonesian subsidiary announced it had cut oil production in the region [Aceh, Sumatra] due to escalating fighting. But Mr. Yusgiantoro, the energy minister, said the government will help guard ExxonMobil's facilities there." "Indonesian Rupiah plunges as protests against President Wahid gather steam." Wall Street Journal. 12 March 2001.
'Wild Logging': The rise and fall of logging networks and biodiversity conservation projects on Sumatra's rainforest frontier. By John F. McCarthy. CIFOR Occasional Paper No. 31. October 2000. (pdf) - Why conservation efforts have been a complete failure. Yet the World Bank (i.e., U.S. and European taxpayers) continues to subsidize forest destruction in Indonesia.
"World Bank warns Indonesia's richest habitats gone by 2010." Kyodo News Service, 13 April 2001. Much as a result of World Bank-financed transmigration, plantations, and old growth logging, including "certified" "sustainable" logging supported by the World Wildlife Fund.
"Wood barons threaten Indonesian sanctuary." AFP, 15 April 2001. - Gunung Leuser.