Plagued with illegal logging, forest fires, the uncontrolled development of plantations and mining sites, as well as human settlement, forested areas on the island of Sumatra have been in rapid decline, shrinking to 10.5 million hectares as of last year from 15.8 million ha in 2000.
The habitat losses have affected wildlife, including the Sumatran tiger population, which has dwindled to the current 371 from 400 in 2015, according to the latest data from WWF Indonesia.
The government’s intervention in 2012 by setting up five so-called essential ecosystem corridors on the island was widely applauded, but cooperation among the regional authorities involved is still lacking and the policy alone is considered ineffective in identifying problems and finding solutions.
“An integrated solution is paramount in the management of these ecosystem corridors to prevent more devastating ecological disasters,” said Tri Agung Rooswiadji of WWF Indonesia.
The NGO in partnership with Millennium Challenge Account-Indonesia (MCAI) and with support from the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister, the Agrarian and Spatial Planning Ministry as well as the Environment and Forestry Ministry put heads together to draw up a road map for sustainable solutions in Sumatra’s forests.
As a pilot project, they chose the 3.8 million ha of ecosystem that stretches across Riau, Jambi and West Sumatra and covers 11 nature conservation areas.
The area of the so-called Rimba corridor, named after the three provinces, is under the authority of 19 regencies and consists of both forests and commercial-use land.
Tri Agung, who coordinates WWF Indonesia’s Rimba corridor project team, said currently there were dozens of forest and plantation concession title holders developing between 2,000 and 40,000 ha each.
“The forestry activities and the number of stakeholders make it important to start from here. We expect a sustainable development in the Rimba corridor,” he said at an event titled National Dialogue on the Rimba Corridor Management in Jakarta on Feb. 27.
Prabianto Mukti Wibowo, the assistant deputy minister for forestry at the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister, said an integrated management within the ecosystem corridor would be a model for green economy and sustainable development of Indonesian forests.
“The Rimba corridor is a part of national spatial planning based on green economy principles that are important to achieving an even distribution of wealth and environment protection by improving the welfare of locals,” he said in a speech to open the three-day event.
During the discussion, which was also attended by officials from the three provinces, Dwi Haryawan of the national spatial planning directorate at the Agrarian and Spatial Planning Ministry underlined the necessity of a special coordinating body to connect the regional authorities in handling forest management.
“Another presidential regulation on the establishment of the institution will be sufficient for the legal framework of the Rimba corridor management, and it will be a model for the management of the other four corridors,” he added.
Presidential Regulation No. 13/2012 on spatial planning designates 40 percent of Sumatra to be reserved as a habitat for protected animals such as elephants, Sumatran tigers, orangutans, rhinoceros and various kinds of birds. The preservation also aims to protect natural diversity, rivers and peatland.
However, forest areas currently account for less than 30 percent of the total landmass of Sumatra, estimated to be around 46 million ha.
The Rimba corridor, which is also known as Corridor No. 2 of five essential ecosystem corridors, covers Animal Conservation area Bukit Rimbang-Bukit Baling, Nature Conservation area Batang Pangean I and II, National Park Kerinci Seblat, Natural Ecosystem Bukit Tigapuluh, National Park Berbak, Nature Conservation areas of Maninjau Utara, Bukit Bungkuk and Cempaka, Ecotourism Park Sungai Bengkal and Forest Park Thaha Syaifuddin.
The first corridor is the AcehNorth Sumatra corridor that includes the Gunung Leuser National Park and the Bukit Barisan Forest Park, which are the habitat of rhinoceros, elephants, orangutans, tigers and birds.
The third corridor connects National Park Berbak and National Park Sembilang as the habitat of birds and tigers in Jambi and South Sumatra, while the fourth corridor connects the southern part of the Bukit Barisan National Park and the Gunung Raya Animal Conservation area as the habitat of tigers, rhinoceros and birds in Bengkulu-South Sumatra-Lampung.
The fifth corridor covers the Kerinci Seblat National Park and Nature Conservation area Bukit Sawa as the habitat of birds, elephants and tigers in Jambi-Bengkulu-South Sumatra.
In the Rimba corridor, 42 percent of the area is conservation forest, protection forest and production forest. Some 80 percent of the total area is in Jambi.
The head of the province’s forestry office, Irmansyah, said while his office had completed mapping the natural resources and wild animals, the administration was still working on the economic empowerment of locals and the coordination with multiple stakeholders.
“The existing regulations, however, do not have much impact on primary industries utilizing nonforest natural resources,” he told the discussion.
The director of essential ecosystem development at the Environment and Forestry Ministry, Antung Radiansyah, assured businesses that they could continue operations in the Rimba corridor as long as they didn’t disturb the habitat and mobility of wild animals.
“We will request concession title holders to revise their business plan to get in line with green economy principles,” he said.
The green economy is defined as an economy that aims at reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities and that aims for sustainable development without degrading the environment.
MCAI associate director Hery Kameswara said the implementation of the green economy would create “a safe playground” for all stakeholders.
“A coordinating body will be a breakthrough in the country’s legal framework, providing answers to which authority is to monitor the land use in border areas of different provinces. It will synergize coordination between the central government and regional administrations and between the three provinces,” he said.
“The integrated management of the Rimba corridor will become an effective solution to environmental issues while pushing for economic growth and sustainable development.”
Antung also suggested cooperation between the existing forest management units (KPH), businesses and locals under the monitoring of regional forestry offices.
KPHs are legal entities at the local level operating on clearly demarcated forest boundaries. Their tasks are determined by long-term objectives set by forest managers — consisting of commercial companies, communities and state-owned forestry companies — operating in the area.
“It doesn’t have to be a permanent institution. We’ve seen that new institutions established by government regulation or presidential regulation as their legal umbrella often overlap in their functions with the prevailing authorities.”