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 Forest Figures
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%
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, 2005: 3,399,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 3.8%
Annual change rate (00-05): 79,400,000 ha
Above-ground biomass: 8,867 M t
Below-ground biomass: 2,926 M t
Area annually affected by
Fire: 122,000 ha
Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: n/a
Critically endangered: 122
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'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.
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.
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.
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 NiŮo 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 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.
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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Scientists capture one of the world's rarest big cats on film (photos)
(05/21/2013) Less than a hundred kilometers from the bustling metropolis of Jakarta, scientists have captured incredible photos of one of the world's most endangered big cats: the Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas). Taken by a research project in Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park, the photos show the magnificent animal relaxing in dense primary rainforest. Scientists believe that fewer than 250 mature Javan leopard survive, and the population may be down to 100.
Could the Tasmanian tiger be hiding out in New Guinea?
(05/20/2013) Many people still believe the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) survives in the wilds of Tasmania, even though the species was declared extinct over eighty years ago. Sightings and reports of the elusive carnivorous marsupial, which was the top predator on the island, pop-up almost as frequently as those of Bigfoot in North America, but to date no definitive evidence has emerged of its survival. Yet, a noted cryptozoologist (one who searches for hidden animals), Dr. Karl Shuker, wrote recently that tiger hunters should perhaps turn their attention to a different island: New Guinea.
Top Indonesian official calls out misinformation in environmental campaign
(05/20/2013) Indonesia's top REDD+ official confirmed there is no plan to open 1.2 million hectares of forest in Sumatra's Aceh Province, calling into question numbers used by environmentalists in their bid to stop reclassification of the province's forest land.
In landmark ruling, Indonesia's indigenous people win right to millions of hectares of forest
(05/17/2013) In a landmark ruling, Indonesia's Constitutional Court has invalidated the Indonesian government's claim to millions of hectares of forest land, potentially giving indigenous and local communities the right to manage their customary forests, reports Mongabay-Indonesia. In a review of a 1999 forestry law, the court ruled that customary forests should not be classified as "State Forest Areas". The move is significant because Indonesia's central government has control over the country's vast forest estate, effectively enabling agencies like the Ministry of Forestry to grant large concessions to companies for logging and plantations even if the area has been managed for generations by local people.
Analysis: Indonesia renews moratorium on logging, palm plantations
(05/16/2013) Indonesia‚Äôs President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a bold and courageous decision this week to extend the country‚Äôs forest moratorium. With this decision, which aims to prevent new clearing of primary forests and peat lands for another two years, the government could help protect valuable forests and drive sustainable development.
Petition targeting plan to open protected forests in Indonesia for mining, logging reaches 1M signatures
(05/15/2013) An AVAAZ petition calling upon Indonesian officials to put a stop to a proposal to open tens of thousands of hectares of protected rainforest to mining, logging, and oil palm plantations has surpassed one million signatures.
Four dead and dozens trapped after collapse at Freeport mine in Papua
(05/15/2013) Four workers were found dead and 10 rescued after the collapse of a tunnel at Freeport-McMoran‚Äôs Grasberg mine in the highlands of Indonesia‚Äôs Papua province on Tuesday.
Rhino populations in Sumatra, Borneo should be combined to save Sumatran rhino from extinction
(05/15/2013) A new study argues for treating endangered Sumatran populations in Borneo and Sumatra as 'a single conservation unit', lending academic support to a controversial proposal to move wild rhinos from Malaysia to Indonesia.
Indonesia officially extends forestry moratorium
(05/15/2013) The Indonesian government has officially extended its moratorium on new logging and plantation concessions in 65 million hectares of forests and peatlands for another two years. The move, which had been expected, was announced Wednesday by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Paper giant APRIL to restore peat forest in Sumatra, but green groups say it continues to deforest
(05/14/2013) Pulp and paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) has launched a $7 million ecosystem restoration project to restore and protect over 20,000 hectares of peat forest in Indonesia‚Äôs Riau province, Mongabay-Indonesia reported last week.
Palm oil company violated RSPO standards, evicted from sustainability body
(05/13/2013) The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has evicted Indonesian palm oil giant Dutapalma Nusantara for violating key principles for sustainability.
Indonesian palm oil giant cutting deforestation from supply chain
(05/13/2013) Indonesian palm oil giant Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) is continuing to reduce deforestation under its 2011 forest conservation policy despite ongoing forest destruction by other palm oil producers in the sector, finds a new assessment by Greenomics, an Indonesian activist group. However the report finds GAR's operations are not completely deforestation-free.
Indonesia welcomes Greenpeace ship 3 years after eviction
(05/09/2013) Indonesia has welcomed Greenpeace's ship, the Rainbow Warrior, back into its waters for the first time since deporting the vessel in October 2010. The Rainbow Warrior arrived today in Jayapura, a major port in Indonesian New Guinea, as the first leg of a tour to raise environmental awareness across the archipelago, according to the activist group.
New UN report gives Indonesia low marks in forest governance
(05/09/2013) A new UN report exposes serious flaws in Indonesia‚Äôs forest governance, serving as a wake up call to policy makers aiming to conserve forests in the country, which boasts the third largest area of tropical forest coverage in the world. On Monday, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) together with the Government of Indonesia launched a comprehensive forest governance index, which evaluates forest governance at the central, provincial and district levels and offers policy recommendations designed to better equip the country to conserve forests and peatlands.
Health effects of toxic waste sites in developing countries could rival malaria, air pollution, new study shows
(05/07/2013) Exposure to dangerous chemicals from toxic waste sites may be creating a public health crisis in developing countries comparable to that caused by malaria or even air pollution, a new study suggests, highlighting the urgent need to clean up toxic waste. In a study published on Saturday in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers calculated the number of 'healthy years of life lost' due to ill-health, disability or early death in individuals at risk of exposure to chemicals at 373 toxic waste sites in India, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Court rules for palm oil company in controversial deforestation case
(05/05/2013) Court orders Aceh governor to reverse decision to cancel palm oil concession in protected peatlands. An Indonesian court has ruled in favor of plantation company PT Kallista Alam in a lawsuit brought against the governor of Indonesia‚Äôs Aceh province for revoking the company‚Äôs license to develop palm oil plantations in a protected peat swamp forest.
Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry denies losing $731m in state funds in 2012
(05/03/2013) Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry on Friday denied a claim by an NGO that it lost or misappropriated 7.1 trillion rupiah ($731 million) in 2012, reports the Jakarta Globe.
Endangered primates and cats may be hiding out in swamps and mangrove forests
(05/02/2013) What happens to animals when their forest is cut down? If they can, they migrate to different forests. But in an age when forests are falling far and fast, many species may have to shift to entirely different environments. A new paper in Folia Primatologica theorizes that some 60 primate species and 20 wild cat species in Asia and Africa may be relying more on less-impacted environments such as swamp forests, mangroves, and peat forests.
Malaysia may loan Indonesia rhinos to save species from extinction
(04/30/2013) Conservationists and officials meeting last month at a rhino crisis summit in Singapore agreed to a radical plan to loan Sumatran rhinos between nations if it means saving the critically endangered species from extinction. The proposal, which could still be thwarted by red tape and political opposition, could lead Malaysia to send some of its Sumatran rhinos to semi-captive breeding facilities in Indonesia.
Cement producers hunting for limestone could threaten Borneo caves
(04/30/2013) Steep towers and rock formations jut out of the Borneo rainforest, sitting atop a vast network of caves and underground waterways in Indonesia‚Äôs Mangkalihat-Sangkulirang region. This dramatic karst landscape, created by the slow erosion of limestone mountains in Indonesia‚Äôs East Kalimantan province, also contains prehistoric fossils and cave paintings created by some of Borneo‚Äôs earliest inhabitants and serves as an important source of water for the surrounding area.
APP answers questions on new forest conservation policy
(04/29/2013) In February, Asia Pulp & Paper, one the world's largest paper producers, announced a forest conservation policy that would effectively exclude fiber sourced through conversion of rainforests and peatlands. The announcement however was met by skepticism by many in the environmental movement due to APP's failures to abide by previous commitments to avoid rainforest logging.
Probe confirms Singapore-based palm oil company engaged in land-grabbing in Borneo
(04/26/2013) An independent investigation has shown that First Resources Ltd, a palm oil plantation company and member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), failed to obtain proper consent from local communities before clearing rainforests for plantations in Indonesian Borneo, an Indonesian indigenous rights group reported last week.
Samsung admits to using tin linked to child labor, deforestation; Apple mum on sourcing
(04/25/2013) Mobile device giant Samsung has admitted to using tin sourced from a controversial mining operation on the Indonesian island of Bangka, where unregulated mining kills 150 miners a year and causes substantial environmental damage, reports The Guardian and Mongabay-Indonesia.
Environmentalists unhappy with new palm oil standard
(04/25/2013) Environmentalists are unhappy with Thursday's approval of new criteria for the world's leading palm oil certification standard. After members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in a special assembly approved the body's new 'principles and criteria' (P&Cs) for palm oil certification, several groups voiced concern that the rules won't protect against conversion of carbon-dense rainforests and peatlands for oil palm plantations.
Bizarre, little-known carnivore sold as illegal pet in Indonesian markets (photo)
(04/24/2013) Few people have ever heard of the Javan ferret-badger, but that hasn't stopped this animal—little-known even to scientists—from being sold in open markets in Jakarta according to a new paper in Small Carnivore Conservation. The Javan ferret-badger (Melogale orientalis) is one of five species in the ferret-badger family, which are smaller than proper badgers with long bushy tails and elongated faces; all five species are found in Asia.
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Last updated: 6 Feb 2006