Illegal logging and forest fires have been blamed for the rapid destruction of lowland forest on Sumatra island over the past few years, anenvironmental activist said on Saturday.
According to World Bank data, lowland forest cover still amounted to 5.6 million hectares in 1985, but 12 years later the forest area had shrunk to2.2 million hectares. “So, in other words, some 3.4 million hectares of forest had disappeared in 12 years,” said the spokeswoman for the Indonesia Sumatra Bird Life group,Putriana Chandra.
She said that the area of lowland forest was continuing to decline. As of recently, there was only some 650,000 hectares of lowland forest left,spread through Jambi, Riau and South Sumatra provinces. “If we don’t stop the illegal logging and forest fires, the forest will have completely disappeared by 2010,” she said.
Despite the rapid pace of deforestation, the government was slow to take measures to stop the illegal logging and forest fires, she said. Only less than 40 percent of the forest area was designated as conservation areas, she said. There were two conservation areas, the Bukit DuabelasNational Park consisting of 60,500 hectares and the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, with 144,000 hectares. The trees in lowland forests with an elevation of 150 meters had a very high economic value, Putriana explained, including meranti trees, with theresult that illegal logging was rampant, she said. Some endangered species of plants were also found there, such as the rafflesia arnoldi and amorphopallus titanium, which were now threatenedwith extinction.
Not only plants, but animals were also facing extinction as their habitats continued to disappear.
There were some 196 species of fauna that were threatened, including the Sumatran elephant, Sumatran tiger and Sumatran rhinoceros. The totalpopulations of these three species only amounted to between 100 and 200 individuals at the present time. There were also some 154 bird species onthe verge of extinction. In order to prevent more damage being done, Putriana urged the government to issue and implement a ministerial decree on the restoration ofecosystems.