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Indonesia's first ‘Restoration Forest’ gives hope to last rainforests in Sumatra

…ground-breaking initiative to restore Sumatra’s rainforest…

Jakarta, Indonesia: Following a major change in forestry law in Indonesia, a ground-breaking initiative to protect and restore an area of Sumatra’s remaining dry lowland rainforest has now been made possible. The 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 the island of Sumatra. The newly named Harapan Rainforest is in an area that was likely to be felled and replaced by plantations for timber or oil palm production. Such plantations clearly have less biodiversity value and extremely limited ecosystem services compared to natural forests. The forest is called ‘Harapan Rainforest’ after the Indonesian word for ‘hope’. The BirdLife International Partnership will put the life back in an area that was previously exploited for timber. They will restore and conserve the native trees, plants and wildlife that remain, and plant many more trees to restore the forest to prime condition. 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.”

The forest is home to the Critically Endangered Sumatran Tiger, of which only 100-300 remain in the wild. Around 20 tigers live in Harapan Rainforest. The area is also home to at least 267 bird species, of which 71 are threatened with extinction. Surveys show evidence of Asian Elephants, Malayan Tapir, Sun Bear and two species of gibbon. Many of these species rely on large tracts of undisturbed forest to survive and maintain only a fragile toehold in the remaining forest.

Harapan Rainforest is extremely rich in wildlife. In the 101,000 hectare area, 267 bird species have been recorded – that’s about as many bird species as breed in the whole of the British Isles. Harapan Rainforest is perhaps most notable for being home to one of the world’s rarest mammals: the Critically Endangered Sumatran Tiger (it has an estimated 20 individuals from a world population of 100-300, although this number is declining). The Sumatran Tiger is one of the remaining sub-species of Asian Tiger – its cousins, the Caspian, Javan and Bali Tigers were driven to extinction in the last century. Harapan Rainforest supports a wide variety of other wildlife. Preliminary surveys have already revealed 45 mammal species including a remarkable 7 cat species and 5 primates. Of the many bird species in the forest, there is one Endangered species, the Storm’s Stork Ciconia stormi and five Vulnerable species: 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. There are 65 Near-Threatened species.Central Sumatra is home to indigenous people known as the Batin Sembilan people. Many of these people still follow a semi-nomadic lifestyle, harvesting fruits, rattan and honey from the forest. “Now these people have a choice for their future,” Mr Lusli said. “With intact forest remaining, they will have the choice of maintaining their traditional lifestyles. They will also have the option of becoming wildlife monitors or forest wardens, as will other people in the local area. The Harapan Rainforest management will also work with the local government to improve rural livelihood.”

The change in Indonesian law that allows production forest to be allocated for conservation and restoration comes just in time and paves the way for many more of these rehabilitation concessions to be established. Forests in the country have suffered dramatically from forest fires, illegal logging and conversion of natural forests. Without this effort to secure Harapan Rainforest, the area would almost certainly have been cleared, burned and converted to timber plantations, like surrounding forest lands. Once BirdLife International’s conservation efforts are well underway, the Partnership will protect the forest from illegal logging and allow the trees to regenerate naturally, as well as planting new ones. 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.”

Marco Lambertini, Director of Network and Programmes for BirdLife International, said: “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. 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. We will work towards every success in this initiative, and hope that others follow.”

4th July 2014