Indonesia’s first “Restoration Forest” gives hope to last rainforests in Sumatra
Following a major change in Indonesia’s forestry law, a ground-breaking initiative to protect and restore an area of Sumatra’s remaining dry lowland rainforest has now been made possible.
The Harapan Rainforest Initiative, planned and pursued for over five years by the coalition of Burung Indonesia, the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK) and BirdLife International, with support from BirdLife Partners, will establish Indonesia’s first “forest ecosystem restoration concession” for the conservation and regeneration of a 101,000 hectares forest block in the lowlands of Sumatra.
The change in law effectively allows for the first time, ‘production forest’ to be allocated for conservation and restoration.
The announcement comes just in time - the area was likely to be felled and replaced by plantations for timber or oil palm production.
“Indonesia suffers from some notoriety for its rapid deforestation. However the Harapan Rainforest initiative, and the Indonesian government’s support for it, could mark a turning point for the country’s forests, a new hope for their conservation.” said Marco Lambertini, Director of Network and Programmes for BirdLife International.
Sukianto Lusli, Executive Director of Burung Indonesia, said: “We expect big dividends for wildlife as well as for local communities. Sumatra’s lowland forest is already a hotspot for rare wildlife. The restoration of the forest will help prevent forest fires which have been badly affecting local communities as well as the entire region.”
"...a new hope for their conservation.” —Marco Lambertini, Director of Network and Programmes for BirdLife International
The area will become a refuge for many of Sumatra’s threatened birds: at least 267 bird species have been surveyed in the forest, with more surveys planned. Of these 71 are threatened with extinction.
The Harapan Rainforest Initiative has particular significance to the conservation of Storm’s Stork Ciconia stormi– an Endangered bird species that has faced considerable declines owing to destruction of lowland forest through logging, dam construction and conversion to oil-palm plantations.
Harapan’s five Vulnerable bird species will also benefit: Short-toed Coucal Centropus bengalensis, Large-billed Blue Flycatcher Cyornis caerulatus, Crestless Fireback Lophura erythrophthalma, Wallace’s Hawk Eagle Spizaetus nanus and Large Green Pigeon Treron capelli.
Other species for which the Harapan Rainforest will become crucial habitat include: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus, Malayan Tapir Tapirus indicus, Sun Bear Helarctos malayanus and Clouded Leopard Neofelis nebulosa - recently recognised as a distinct new cat species from the one in mainland Asia.
The Harapan Rainforest will also prove important for conservation of Critically Endangered Sumatran Tiger. 20 tigers are known to reside in the dry lowland rainforest.
"We expect big dividends for wildlife as well as for local communities." —Sukianto Lusli, Executive Director of Burung Indonesia
Graham Wynne, Chief Executive of the RSPB, said: “It is difficult to express just how significant this breakthrough is. There have been many times in the last five years when our hopes of saving Harapan Rainforest had all but ebbed away.”
“Every part of Harapan Rainforest has been logged to some extent in the last 60 years and some of its species have been staring extinction in the face. But all of the forest can still recover and every single species it hosts now has a toehold on survival.” he said.
Conservationists have highlighted the global significance of protecting areas of ‘restoration forests’ like Harapan:
“Their biodiversity, their role in the mitigation of global warming as well as regulating local climate and preventing floods, make their protection relevant for both the local as well as the global community.” said Lambertini. “We will work towards every success in this initiative, and hope that others follow.”
Birdlife Partners that are actively supporting the Harapan Rainforest initiative include: Natuurpunt and Natagora (both Belgium), SVS/BirdLife Switzerland, LNVL (Luxembourg), Vogelbescherming Nederland (The Netherlands).