Kutai under siege

Down to Earth No. 45, May 2000

The situation of Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan is critical. Its head, Toni Suhartono, reckons 10 hectares of forest are cleared daily by illegal loggers. Much of this is the result of highly organised operations. Some 50 trucks per day transport logs out of the Park to the boom town of Sangatta where middle-men export them from the local port.

The European Wildlife Preservation Coalition (EWPC), representing several international NGOs, has urged the park authorities to take action. In its letter to the local government and the national park, EWPC threatens that the group will press European nations to impose sanctions against Indonesia if the government fails to put an end to the destruction in this and other conservation areas. Indonesian NGOs including WWF have also expressed their concern. The park authorities claim they have too few staff to prevent these illegal operations.

There are also serious problems of agricultural encroachment. The park was established to protect a sample of Kalimantan's rapidly diminishing lowland rainforest which has a rich biodiversity, including many endemic species of plants and animals. It originally covered 198,629 hectares, but Suhartono says now barely half is still forested (104,508 ha). Around 13,500 farming families live within the park in three villages, some of whom lived there before the park was established in 1991. There are also many recent settlers along the main road which bisects the park, in the southeast corner and in mangroves on the eastern coast. Some established pepper fields or shrimp ponds some time ago. Others are paid to occupy the park land by speculators in nearby towns.

Forestry minister Nur Mahmudi has rejected proposals from the head of East Kutai district, Awang Farouk Ishak, to remove 15,000 ha from the park. The land, mainly in the southeast corner would be used for housing and business development. The park would be compensated by incorporating an additional area of forest to the west, leaving its total area unchanged. Local NGOs backed the plan announced last year. Awang also wants to establish a one kilometre-wide green belt along the Bontang-Sangatta road. Before the Mahmudi decision, the Jakarta authorities indicated that they were willing to agree to allow the 13,500 families to remain in their villages, but that this land should not be taken out of the park as this would set a bad precedent and cause even more land-grabbing in the park by speculators. The local authorities are still determined to develop the three villages inside the park and have announced plans to turn an airstrip at Sangkimah into a small airport.

(Sources: Suara Pembaruan 24/Nov/99, 21&28/Feb/00, 28/Mar/00; Indonesian Observer 3/Nov/99, 28/Mar/00 16/Nov/99, 20/Jan/00; Suara Kaltim 12/Jan/00; Kompas 22/Jan/00)