Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rescued by Prince Charles

The people in Jambi and South Sumatra had an end-of-year surprise. None other than Prince Charles, the heir to the throne of Great Britain, visited Harapan Rainforest which straddles the border between Jambi and South Sumatra.

Prince Charles is one of the global public figures who cares about the fate of tropical forests. He has followed with interest the developments in issues such as deforestation and global climate change.

The events leading up to the visit of the Prince can be traced back to the year 2002 when Burung Indonesia, an Indonesian bird and habitat conservation organization, proposed the "crazy idea" of managing a production forest (a forest that should have been logged) for the purposes of restoration and conservation.

There had been strong concerns that the rich biodiversity of Indonesia,s tropical rainforests was decreasing at an alarming rate.

The forests that are most under threat of clearance are those in the lowlands including the lowlands of Sumatra. Ironically, according to Burung Indonesia,s own studies, Sumatra,s lowland forest is amongst the richest in the world in terms of the number of species it contains.

About 626 species of birds are found there, as well as tiger, elephant, tapir and sun bear.

The concept of managing a concession for forest restoration was the result of a long and ever-changing discussion. It was clear that even conservation areas such as national parks were failing to protect the lowland forests from widespread illegal logging, and as such, creation of new conservation areas would not automatically help to reduce deforestation.

The concept of restoration was so new that many regarded Burung Indonesia,s proposal as strange and questioned whether it would ever work. Another problem was that there was no legal precedent, and no such thing as a license for management of production forests for restoration thus without cutting trees.

It is very encouraging that there was no shortage of enthusiasm, including full support from the Forest Ministry. As a result, that great but difficult dream has gradually become a reality. Beginning with a campaign to save Sumatra,s tropical rainforests at the British Birdwatching Fair in Aug. 2002, the ecosystem restoration initiative which had at times appeared impossible began to gain support from people around the world. Worldwide partners of BirdLife International agreed to join the Sumatran Rainforest campaign. Friends in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Holland put together what resources they could to provide critical funding to get the campaign and the concession off the ground.

Just as important has been the support of the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles. He held a reception at his official residence, Clarence House in London, in 2004 to give a boost to the Sumatra initiative which was by then known as the "ecosystem restoration area". The result was exceptional the Prince,s backing encouraged support for the initiative from all corners of the world.

One of the highlights was when the Forestry Minister issued the first ever "License for Management of a Production Forest for Ecosystem Restoration" in Aug. 2007.

The area identified for restoration was a production forest covering 101,000 hectares on the border between Jambi and South Sumatra. The license was presented to PT Restorasi Ekosistem Indonesia, a company created to hold the license by the BirdLife consortium - Burung Indonesia, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and BirdLife International.

The first action of the new management was to stop the logging that had been going on in the forest. This action will be continued until the natural balance of the ecosystem has been restored.

Prince Charles shared the dream when he supported this initiative in 2004. Now that dream must be seen through to its final conclusion. The support of the Prince shown by his visit to the ecosystem restoration area will inspire the people who are developing and managing this concession - and those who are hoping to create more restoration concessions in Indonesia - to put even greater efforts into attaining their goal in the country rich with endemic bird areas.(Rachma Tri Widuri/Burung Indonesia)

The writer is a conservation activist, active in Burung Indonesia

Source: The Jakarta Post