Indonesian governor pleads with President Jokowi to lift timber ban in his province

Environmentalists fear it could put one of Borneo’s last best coastal peat swamp forests at risk.

The West Kalimantan governor wants to exempt timber firms in the Indonesian province from a national ban on peatland drainage, drawing the ire of green groups who say such a policy shift could spell the end of one of the Bornean orangutan’s last strongholds, the Sungai Putri rainforest.

Governor Cornelis, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, outlined his request in a letter to the president dated April 25; days after the Ministry of Environment and Forestry sanctioned a plantation firm for building an illegal drainage canal through Sungai Putri.

“Companies will lose confidence to invest in the forestry sector,” Cornelis wrote to President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi. An exemption was needed, he argued, “in order to maintain a conducive and comfortable investment climate.”

Jokowiintroduced the ban in the wake of the devastating 2015 forest and land fires, which burned an area the size of Vermont and sickened half a million people. The country’s vast peat swamp zones have been widely drained and dried for agriculture, rendering them highly flammable and prone to emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gases.

I think the fact that he’s made that commitment yet wants to open the peat and forest in his province for development is a double standard.

Ratri Kusumohartono, forest campaigner, Greenpeace

Reports of timber firm PT Mohairson Pawan Khatulistiwa (MPK)’s activities in Sungai Putri, one of the last best coastal peat swamp forests on the island of Borneo, began to emerge last year. In March, the environment ministry visited the area; on April 21, it ordered the company to stop operating and close the canal, which then stretched 8.1 kilometers long.

Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, a member of the ministry’s law enforcement team, said that if the company did not obey the ministry’s instructions, its permit could be frozen or revoked. The ministry would also consider a lawsuit, she said.

The governor asks in his letter for every timber plantation firm whose permit precedes Jokowi’s signing last December of a new peat regulation, and that had started operating by then, to be allowed to proceed as usual.

Greenpeace forest campaigner Ratri Kusumohartono pointed out that Cornelis is a member of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, an international consortium of governors dedicated to reducing carbon emissions. In 2015 he attended the UN climate summit in Paris.

“I think the fact that he’s made that commitment yet wants to open the peat and forest in his province for development is a double standard,” Kusumohartono said.

Cornelis in his letter makes an economic case for the plantations, emphasizing the enormity of both the investments being made and the benefits they will produce for the province.

He also says the companies will protect the forest in their concessions from local people who encroach on them.

Republished with permission. This story was reported in part by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and was first published on our Indonesian site on May 15, 2017.

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