Forest CoverTotal 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, 2000-2005Annual 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 ClassificationPublic: 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 BreakdownTotal 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
PlantationsPlantations, 2005: 3,399,000 ha % of total forest cover: 3.8% Annual change rate (00-05): 79,400,000 ha
Carbon storageAbove-ground biomass: 8,867 M t Below-ground biomass: 2,926 M t
Area annually affected byFire: 122,000 ha Insects: n/a Diseases: n/a
Number of tree species in IUCN red listNumber of native tree species: n/a Critically endangered: 122 Endangered: 57 Vulnerable: 76
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.
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 Niño 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.
NASA: Sumatra fires in the rise
(07/22/2014) The number of fires burning in Sumatra's Riau Province doubled on Sunday, raising concerns that dry conditions could unleash an especially severe haze this dry season in Indonesia.
'A high price to pay': new Indonesian peatland regulation may do more harm than good
(07/22/2014) The Government Regulation on Peatland Ecosystem Protection and Management, initially drafted by the Ministry of Forestry in 2013, is getting mixed acceptance from civil society. On one hand, the regulation would offer more protection to the countryâ€™s vast peatland areas. However, on the other, some NGOs have slammed the draft as a potential source of new conflicts for local people.
Over-depleted and undermanaged: can Indonesia turn around its fisheries? (Part III)
(07/22/2014) Compared to maritime ministries worldwide, Indonesia's Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) is a teenaged neophyte. The governing body was formed a mere 13 years ago;a staggering fact for a country made up of two-thirds water where many of the 250 million people depend on fish for both protein and income. Mongabay.org's SRI Fellow Melati Kaye reports on the state of Indonesian fisheries in the third installment of a four-part series.
What is peat swamp, and why should I care?
(07/20/2014) Long considered an unproductive hindrance to growth and development, peat swamp forests in Southeast Asia have been systematically cleared, drained and burned away to make room plantations and construction. Now, as alternating cycles of fires and flood create larger development problems, while greenhouse gas emissions skyrocket, it is time to take a closer look at peat, and understand why clearing it is a very bad idea.
Boom but mostly bust: fighting over sardines in Indonesia's Bali Strait (Part II)
(07/18/2014) Fifty-five crewmen, stripped to their briefs, sing Madurese sea shanties to synchronized gestures as they haul in giant seine nets, hand-over-hand, onto the swaying wooden deck of the M/V Sinar Indah out in the middle of the Bali Strait. This morning they had offloaded a bumper haul at their homeport of Muncar: seven tons of lemuru sardines Sardinella lemuru, the local specialty, for which dockside cannery agents offered $3,500.
30% of Borneo's rainforests destroyed since 1973
(07/16/2014) More than 30 percent of Borneo's rainforests have been destroyed over the past forty years due to fires, industrial logging, and the spread of plantations, finds a new study that provides the most comprehensive analysis of the island's forest cover to date. The research, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, shows that just over a quarter of Borneo's lowland forests remain intact.
New palm oil sustainability manifesto met with criticism from environmentalists
(07/11/2014) This week several palm oil giants announced new environmental criteria for palm oil production. The companies say the initiative goes beyond the industry-leading standard set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), but two prominent environmental groups quickly disagreed, arguing the measure has substantial loopholes that will allow growers to continue destroying forests.
APP won't acquire companies that continue to destroy forests
(07/08/2014) Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) will not acquire companies that continue to destroy forests, according to a new procedure for association introduced by the Indonesian forestry giant. The procedure, developed after months of consultations with NGOs, effectively closes a loophole some environmentalists feared would allow APP to sidestep its zero deforestation commitment by acquiring companies that continued to clear forest after its February 5, 2013 deadline.
A tale of two fish: cyanide fishing and foreign bosses off Sulawesi's coast (Part I)
(07/08/2014) In spring and summer, after the monsoon storms have passed, the fishing boats set out again from tiny Kodingareng Island in the Spermonde Archipelago off the coast of South Sulawesi. In the afternoon heat, Abdul Wahid joins his fellow fishermen in the narrow shade of the beachfront village houses to check out the daily fish prices.
APP: Indonesia needs a new business model
(07/04/2014) In response to news that Indonesia has now surpassed Brazil as the world's top deforester, the head of sustainability at one of Indonesia's biggest forestry companies is calling for a new business model in how the Southeast Asian nation manages its forest. In a letter published Friday, Aida Greenbury, Asia Pulp & Paper's Managing Director Sustainability, said Indonesia needs to take a more comprehensive approach to tackling deforestation.
Next big idea in forest conservation? The 'double-edged sword' of democracy
(07/03/2014) Dr. Douglas Sheil considers himself an ecologist, but his research includes both conservation and management of tropical forests. Currently teaching at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) Sheil has authored and co-authored over 200 publications including scholarly articles, books, and popular articles on the subject.
On the brink of extinction: Javan rhino has new enemy in invasive palm
(07/01/2014) The last of Indonesia's critically endangered Javan rhinoceroses have survived poachers, rapid deforestation and life in the shadow of one of the archipelago's most active volcanoes. But an invasive plant is now posing a new threat to the world's rarest species of rhino.
New report: illegal logging keeps militias and terrorist groups in business
(06/30/2014) Released last week by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) during the first United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, a new report found that together with other other illicit activities such as poaching, illegal deforestation is one of the top money-makers for criminal groups like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab.
Despite moratorium, Indonesia now has world's highest deforestation rate
(06/29/2014) Despite a high-level pledge to combat deforestation and a nationwide moratorium on new logging and plantation concessions, deforestation has continued to rise in Indonesia, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change. Annual forest loss in the southeast Asian nation is now the highest in the world, exceeding even Brazil.
Despite early headwinds, Indonesia's biggest REDD+ project moves forward in Borneo
(06/26/2014) Just over a year ago, the Indonesian government officially approved the country's first REDD+ forest carbon conservation project: Rimba Raya, which aims to protect more than 64,000 hectares of peat forest in Central Kalimantan. The approval came after years of delays from the Ministry of Forestry and a substantial reduction in the project's concession area. But InfiniteEarth, the firm behind the project, pressed on. Now a year later, Rimba Raya's is not only still in business, but is scaling up its operations.
Wilmar to investigate palm oil company allegedly destroying orangutan forest
(06/23/2014) A Wilmar supplier is allegedly destroying orangutan habitat in Indonesian Borneo, potentially putting it in breach of the plantation giant's zero deforestation policy, reports Greenomics. According to analysis of satellite data by Greenomics, PT Sumatera Jaya Agro Lestari (SJAL) has cleared an area of forest that is classified as orangutan habitat.
Deforestation drives tigers into contact, conflict with humans
(06/20/2014) Conflicts between tigers and humans will continue to increase unless the destruction and loss of Sumatra's forests is halted, warns Dr. Erni Suyanti Musabine, a wildlife conservation veterinarian with Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry. According to Yanti, the critically endangered Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) traditionally lived deep in the forest, but habitat loss forces them closer to human habitation where they are at risk of being hunted or contracting diseases, and are increasingly becoming a nuisance or threat to humans.
The palm oil diet: study finds displaced orangutans have little else to eat
(06/20/2014) In a recent study, researchers assessed how orangutans have adapted to living among oil palm plantations on Borneo. They found that while orangutans have adapted to the islandâ€™s human-transformed landscapes better than expected, oil palm plantations are unable to sustain orangutan populations in the long-term.
Apeidemiology: researchers model ape disease transmission for the first time
(06/20/2014) In a nine-year-long study published recently in PLOS ONE, a team of researchers attempted to understand how diseases spread and differ among orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii), creating the first-ever epidemiological model for great ape populations.
Indonesian logger: cleared peat forest doesn't have high conservation value
(06/17/2014) An Indonesian logging company says that clearing of peat forest on an island off Sumatra is 'in line with its Sustainable Forest Management Policy' because the area wasn't found to be of high conservation value. In a letter responding to concerns raised by environmental groups, Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL) said its forest policy applies to all its concessions, including the Pulau Padang concession where Greenpeace documented deep peat clearance last month.
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an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.