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INDONESIA

Indonesia Forest Figures

Forest Cover
Total forest area: 88,495,000 ha
% of land area: 48.8%

Primary forest cover: 48,702,000 ha
% of land area: 26.9%
% total forest area: 55.0%

Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -1,871,400 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -2.0%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: 19.1%
Total forest loss since 1990: -28,072,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-24.1%

Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: -1447800 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -2.6%
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 25.9%
Primary forest loss since 1990: -7,239,000 ha
Primary forest loss since 1990:-30.8%

Forest Classification
Public: 100%
Private: 0%
Other: 0%
Use
Production: 53.9%
Protection: 27.5%
Conservation: 18.6%
Social services: n/a
Multiple purpose: n/a
None or unknown: n/a

Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 88,495,000 ha
Primary: 48,702,000 ha
Modified natural: n/a
Semi-natural: 36,394,000 ha
Production plantation: 3,399,000 ha
Production plantation: n/a

Plantations
Plantations, 2005: 3,399,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 3.8%
Annual change rate (00-05): 79,400,000 ha

Carbon storage
Above-ground biomass: 8,867 M t
Below-ground biomass: 2,926 M t

Area annually affected by
Fire: 122,000 ha
Insects: n/a
Diseases: n/a

Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: n/a
Critically endangered: 122
Endangered: 57
Vulnerable: 76

Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 11,178,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 79,000 m3 o.b.

Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $2,159,679,000
Wood fuel: n/a
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: $2,159,679,000


More forest statistics for Indonesia

Indonesia houses the most extensive rainforest cover in all of Asia, though it is rapidly developing these lands to accommodate its increasing population and growing economy.

Indonesia's 17,000 islands form an archipelago that spans two biogeographic realms—the Indomalayan and Australasian—and seven biogeographic regions, and support tremendous diversity and endemism of species. Of the country's 3,305 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles, 31.1 percent are endemic and 9.9 percent are threatened. Indonesia is home to at least 29,375 species of vascular plants, of which 59.6 percent are endemic.

Logging

Today just under half of Indonesia is forested, representing a significant decline in its original forest cover. Between 1990 and 2005 the country lost more than 28 million hectares of forest, including 21.7 hectares of virgin forest. Its loss of biologically rich primary forest was second only to Brazil during that period, and since the close of the 1990s, deforestation rates of primary forest cover have climbed 26 percent. Today Indonesia's forests are some of the most threatened on the planet.

Indonesia's forests are being degraded and destroyed by logging, mining operations, large-scale agricultural plantations, colonization, and subsistence activities like shifting agriculture and cutting for fuelwood. Rainforest cover has steadily declined since the 1960s when 82 percent of the country was covered with forest, to 68 percent in 1982, to 53 percent in 1995, and 49 percent today. Much of this remaining cover consists of logged-over and degraded forest.

The effects from forest loss have been widespread, including irregular river flows, soil erosion, and reduced yield from of forest products. Pollution from chlorine bleach used in pulp bleaching and run-off from mines has damaged river systems and adjacent cropland, while wildlife poaching has reduced populations of several conspicuous species including the orangutan (endangered), Bali and Javan tigers (extinct), and Javan and Sumatran rhinos (on the brink of extinction). On the island of New Guinea (Irian Jaya) the world's only tropical glacier is receding due to climate change, but also due to the local effects of mining and deforestation.

Logging for tropical timbers and pulpwood is the best-known cause of forest loss and degradation in the country. Indonesia is the world's largest exporter of tropical timber, generating upwards of US$5 billion annually, and more than 48 million hectares (55 percent of the country's remaining forests) are concessioned for logging. Logging in Indonesia has opened some of the most remote, forbidding places on earth to development. After decimating much of the forests in less remote locations, timber firms have stepped up practices on the island of Borneo and the state of Irian Jaya on New Guinea, where great swaths of forests have been cleared in recent years and logging firms have to move deeper and deeper into the interior to find suitable trees. For example, in the mid-1990s, only 7 percent of Indonesia's logging concessions were located in Irian Jaya, but today more than 20 percent exist in the territory.

Legal timber harvesting affects 700,000-850,000 hectares of forest per year in Indonesia, but widespread illegal logging boosts the overall logged area to at least 1.2-1.4 million hectares and possibly much higher—in 2004, Environment Minister Nabiel Makarim said that 75 percent of logging in Indonesia is illegal. Despite an official ban on the export of raw logs from Indonesia, timber is regularly smuggled to Malaysia, Singapore, and other Asian countries. By some estimates, Indonesia is losing around $1 billion a year in tax revenue from the illicit trade. Illegal cutting is also hurting legitimate timber-harvesting businesses by reducing the supply of logs available for processing, and undercutting international prices for wood and wood products.

Agriculture

Over the past few years, extensive areas of forest have been converted for oil-palm plantations. Indonesia's oil-palm plantations grew from 600,000 hectares in 1985 to more than 4 million hectares by early 2006 when the government announced a plan to develop 3 million additional hectares of oil-palm plantations by 2011. Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is an attractive plantation crop because it is the cheapest vegetable oil and produces more oil per hectare than any other oilseed. In the current environment of high energy prices, palm oil is seen as a good way to meet increasing demand for biofuel as an alternative energy source.

While clear-cutting virgin rainforest is illegal in Indonesia and oil-palm plantations can be planted on degraded forest lands, forest clearing is permissible as long as the process is declared to be the first step in establishing a plantation. Thus oil-palm plantations often replace natural forests. Of particular concern to forest watchers is a 2-million-hectare project planned for central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. The plan—funded by China and supported by the Indonesian government—has been widely criticized by environmental groups who say that the conversion of natural forest for monocultures of palm trees threatens biodiversity and ecological services. The World Wildlife Fund, which has been particularly vocal in condemning the scheme and has a number of scientists on the ground assessing the potentially affected region, has issued several reports on the region's biological diversity (361 new species were discovered between 1994 and 2004 in Borneo).

The fastest and cheapest way to clear new land for plantations is by burning. Every year hundreds of thousands of acres hectares go up in smoke as developers and agriculturalists feverishly light fires before monsoon rains begin to fall. In dry years—especially during strong el Niño years—these fires can burn out of control for months on end, creating deadly pollution that affects neighboring countries and causes political tempers to flare.

In 1982-1983 more than 9.1 million acres (3.7 million ha) burned on the island of Borneo before monsoon rains arrived, while more than 2 million hectares of forest and scrub land burned during the 1997-1998 el Niño event, causing $9.3 billion in losses. The fires also produced wide-ranging and severe economic, political, social, health, and ecological damage to Indonesia and the neighboring Southeast Asian nations of Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, and Thailand, already in the midst of an economic crisis. Satellite analysis of the 1997-1998 fires revealed that 80 percent of the fires could be linked to plantations or logging concession holders.

The haze from the 2005-2006 fires resulted in heated exchanges between Indonesian and Malaysian government officials. Malaysia and Singapore have offered assistance in fighting Indonesian blazes, while simultaneously placing blame on the country for its lack of progress in controlling the wild fires. Indonesia in turn blamed Malaysian firms for rampant illegal logging in the country, which left its forests more susceptible to conflagrations.

Despite some protective measures, including an Indonesian proposal to implement the death penalty for illegal loggers and fire starters, such fires are only expected to worsen in the future as the region's forests face increasingly dry conditions due to climate change and degradation.

Fires in Indonesia's peat swamps are particularly damaging due to the high carbon content of the ecosystem—Dr Susan Page, of the University of Leicester, estimates that Southeast Asian peat lands may contain up to 21 percent of the world's land-based carbon. The 1997 fires released 2.67 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Population problems

Fires in Indonesia were worsened by the government's misguided transmigration program which moved poor families from the crowded central islands to the less populated outer islands. In the program's two-plus decades, more than six million migrants—730,000 families—were relocated to Kalimantan, Irian Jaya, Sulawesi, and Sumatra. Ignorant of cultivation methods in these areas, many transmigrants fared poorly. In 1995, former President Suharto initiated the "One Million Hectare Project," an ambitious project to move 300,000 families from Java to central Kalimantan and increase rice production by 2.7 million tons per year. For two years, workers cleared the forests and dug almost 3,000 miles of canals with the intended purpose of keeping the soil drained in the rainy season and crops irrigated in the dry season. But because the peat lands were higher than the rivers, the plan backfired as the canals carried all the moisture out of the peat lands. The failures of the project were compounded by an eight-month drought from an especially intense El Nińo year. In 1997, the dried-out peat lands ignited. Fires in other parts of Indonesia have been linked to colonist settlements established during the transmigration program.

Mining

Mining operations have a devastating effect on the forest and tribal peoples of Indonesia. The largest and best known of such projects is the Freeport mine in Irian Jaya, run by Freeport-McMoRan. Freeport-McMoRan, based in New Orleans, has operated the Mount Ertsberg gold, silver, and copper mine in Irian Jaya, Indonesia, for more than 20 years and has converted the mountain into a 600-meter hole. As documented by the New York Times and dozens of environmental groups, the mining company has dumped appalling amounts of waste into local streams, rendering downstream waterways and wetlands "unsuitable for aquatic life." Relying on large payments to military officials, the mining operation is protected by a virtual private army that has been implicated in the deaths of an estimated 160 people between 1975 and 1997 in the mine area.

Freeport estimates that it generates 700,000 tons of waste a day and that the waste rock stored in the highlands—900 feet deep in places—now covers about three square miles. Government surveys have found that tailings from the mines have produced levels of copper and sediment so high that almost all fish have disappeared from nearly 90 square miles of wetlands downstream from the operation.

Cracking down on the Freeport's environmental abuses and questionable human-rights practices has proved a challenge since the mine is one of the largest sources of revenue for the Indonesian government. An Indonesian government scientist wrote that "the mine's production was so huge, and regulatory tools so weak, that it was like 'painting on clouds' to persuade Freeport to comply with the ministry's requests to reduce environmental damage," according to a Dec. 27, 2005, article in the New York Times.

Cronyism and Corruption

Forest management in Indonesia has long been plagued by corruption. Underpaid government officials combined with the prevalence of disreputable businessmen and shifty politicians, mean logging bans go unenforced, trafficking in endangered species is overlooked, environmental regulations are ignored, parks are used as timber farms, and fines and prison sentences never come to pass. Corruption was cemented in place under the rule of ex-president General Haji Mohammad Soeharto (Suharto), who gained control in 1967 after participating in a 1965 seizure of power by the military. Under his rule, cronyism was rife, and many of his close relatives and associates built up tremendous wealth through subsidies and unfair business practices.

This tradition of crony capitalism played an important role in the government's poor response to forest fires during the 1997-1998 crisis. According to the IMF's managing director, Indonesia was unable to use its special off-budget reforestation fund to help combat the fires because the money had been ear-marked for a failing car project owned by Suharto's son. Though the fund contained billions drawn from timber taxes, it has long been used as a convenient way to distribute wealth back to Indonesia's circle of economic elite, the bedfellows of the former strongman. The IMF said that the fund has mostly been used to provide low-interest loans to commercial timber and plantation companies for land clearing and replanting virgin rainforest with fast-growing pine, eucalyptus, and acacia trees for pulp production.

The future

Indonesia's forests face a discouragingly grim future. While the country has nearly 400 protected areas, the sanctity of these reserves is virtually nonexistent. With its wildlife, forests, coral reefs, cultural attractions, and warm seas, Indonesia has tremendous potential for eco-tourism, but to date most tourism is focused on cheap beach holidays. Sex tourism is a problem in parts of the country, and tourism itself has caused social issues and environmental problems from forest clearing, mangrove development, pollution, and resort construction.

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Last updated: 6 Feb 2006






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