Save the Leuser Rainforest Ecosystem

Guest writer Steven Katsineris with a call to save a rainforest. Steven Katsineris is an Australian free-lance writer of articles on Palestine, Cyprus and the rest of the Middle East region, political prisoners and human rights, environmental and social issues. He has been actively involved in the Palestine solidarity movement for over forty years. Steven lives with his family in Melbourne, Australia.

  • I grew up in a place teeming with wild Orangutans, Elephants, Tigers, Sunbears and Sumatran Rhinos. My family and I lived in balance with the mountains, forests and rivers surrounding us. From an early age, I knew I had to take care of the beauty that surrounded me. But as huge multi-national companies expand their reach and as palm plantations spread, I know that I can't protect these pristine places alone -  Rudi Putra, environmental activist.*

As recently as the 1960s, 82 percent of Indonesia was covered with tropical rainforests, but sadly the country now has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, with just under half of the country’s original forests remaining. Between 1990 and 2005, Indonesia lost more than 28 million hectares of forest, including 21.7 hectares of virgin forest. It is estimated that, from 2000 to 2010, about 1.125 million hectares have been lost. Conservative studies suggest more than 2.4 million acres of Indonesian rainforest is cleared and lost each year.

Indonesia’s rainforests are one of earth’s most biologically and culturally rich landscapes. Incredibly, with just 1 percent of the Earth’s land area, Indonesia’s rainforests contain 10% of the world’s known plants, 12% of mammals and 17% of all known bird species.

Today in many parts of Indonesia though, where there was once rainforest, rows of palm trees now stretch to the horizon. The rainforest is gone — bulldozed, burned and replaced with palm oil plantations. Even supposedly protected areas of rainforest are being destroyed or coming under threat from mining, logging and palm oil companies. One such region is the Leuser Rainforest Ecosystem in Aceh province in north Sumatra, a vitally important protected tropical rainforest ecosystem of global significance.

Leuser- A Refuge For Critically Endangered Sumatran Tigers, Rhinos, Elephants, Orangutans and Sunbears. 
I have witnessed vast areas of forests destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations; forests I knew were the homes of endangered species. I’ve removed traps from the forest corridors used by the last Sumatran elephants and tigers. I have even found animals poisoned, speared and burned alive by poachers and plantation workers. I need your help to protect the last rhino’s and rainforests of Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem from Conflict Palm Oil - Rudi Putra.
Recently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) identified the Leuser Ecosystem as one of the world’s foremost “irreplaceable areas” that must be protected to preserve biodiversity.

The north Sumatra rainforests are home to 10,000 different plants and hundreds of birds and mammals. A rainforest that’s home to 10-15% of all species on earth. The rainforests of Sumatra are the last stand for one of humankind’s closest relatives, the Orangutan. Orangutans face an extreme risk of extinction within our lifetime. Between 2004-08, the Sumatran Orangutan population fell by 14% to 6,600, largely due to the massive loss of forest habitat for palm oil expansion. The Critically Endangered Sumatran Tiger and Sumatran Rhinoceros, both with populations of only hundreds left in the wild, are also urgently threatened by palm oil plantations expansion.

The Leuser Rainforest Ecosystem and other protected areas are vital for the survival of some of the world's most endangered species. Leuser is the last place on earth where endangered Sumatran Orangutans, Sumatran Tigers, Sumatran Rhinos, Elephants and Sun Bears are all found together. And the six million acre Leuser Ecosystem is home to the densest population of Orangutans remaining anywhere. It is also home to the last remaining 400 Sumatran Tigers.  But this rainforest sanctuary is being methodically destroyed by Indonesian authorities and big companies.

Leuser Forests Cleared for Palm Oil Plantations, Mining and Logging.   

And still, the plantations keep growing across Aceh, always feeding the demand for conflict palm oil. It must stop. We must protect the world's rainforests. We must stop powerful and wealthy international corporations from exploiting and destroying irreplaceable Indonesian ecosystems for profit. My community and I work tirelessly to shut down and destroy illegal palm oil plantations inside the federally protected Leuser Ecosystem, using chainsaws and uprooting illegal oil palms. We do this to protect our families from the floods that result from the destruction of the forests on the hillsides that surround our homes. But we cannot do this alone. We need your help -  Rudi Putra.
Conservation groups are fighting a plan drawn-up by the provincial Aceh government that is currently being evaluated by the central Indonesian government which would strip protection from a vast area of the prized Leuser Rainforest region.

The government of Aceh, the province in which the Leuser Protected Ecosystem lies, has approved a disastrous plan that would remove crucial protections from large areas of forest from the protected Leuser Ecosystem region, opening them up to more palm oil and pulp plantations, logging, mining and all of the roads and other infrastructure that come with them. The Indonesian government is now considering the plan and has the power to reject it.
The Acehnese Government is pushing to finalise the proposed plan and additional new draft governor's regulation, which opens a door for new permits in large critical areas of the Leuser Ecosystem. If approved, this new plan and the new regulation will result in the rapid devastation of most of Aceh’s remaining lowland forests, the last stronghold for the Sumatran Orangutan, Tiger, Rhino and Elephant. This also totally undermines the protected status of the region.

Environmentalists have stated that if the Indonesian central government approves Aceh’s spatial plan, the Sumatran Elephant, Tiger, Rhino and Orangutan will be pushed to extinction.

As well, Western Australia-based mining firm Prosperity Resources has already been granted a 41,000-hectare area to explore for gold and copper on the edge of the Leuser Ecosystem. And furthermore, an Aceh-based environmental campaigner said that Prosperity Resources and Canadian firm East Asia Minerals were actively lobbying the Aceh government to open up more protected areas.

Saving Leuser’s Forests Provides Many Environmental and Economic Benefits.   
It gives me hope that by people across the world calling on the governor, he will listen to the people instead of the companies that want to destroy our forests, and work to find a balance that will protect the forests and the livelihoods of Aceh’s people - Rudi Putra.

Nearly four million people depend on the rainforests of the Leuser Ecosystem to provide them with clean water for drinking, irrigation and food production. Also many thousands of Indigenous people rely on the rainforest for their lives and livelihoods. Opening up huge areas of some of the world’s most biologically diverse forests to major industrial development will have devastating consequences for both wildlife and people.

Of course, it’s not just local communities and wildlife that need to be protected from bulldozers and forest fires. Indonesia’s rainforests are a valuable carbon sink—destroying them would make our climate problem that much worse, imperilling the future of everyone on this planet just to enrich a few well-connected businessmen.

The President of Indonesia has committed to reducing Indonesia's greenhouse gas emissions and to implement a moratorium on new permits in primary forests and peatlands. But if this plan is approved and if the current moratorium on the logging and clearing of forests in Indonesia are lifted it will be a disaster for the climate, Indonesia's endangered species and local communities.

We must ensure that the Leuser Protected Ecosystem remains protected from logging, the expansion of palm oil and pulp plantations, mining and new major roads that would impact the integrity of the area. Keeping the forested slopes of the Leuser Protected Area intact will help Indonesia meet its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent dangerous landslides and flooding that can wash away entire schools and villages.  This will also ensure that the livelihoods of local communities are respected and work to support new economies for communities in Aceh. totally undermines the legal status of the world renowned Leuser Ecosystem. It will not only seriously impact biodiversity and regional carbon emissions, but also seriously jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of many thousands of Aceh’s 4 million people.We are requesting your urgent assistance. Visit Wildlife Asia Operation Aceh Fund to save this last piece of truly critical forest

Farsighted Vision - Saving Leuser Rainforests Brings Perpetual Rewards for Wild Animals and People.  

Further opening up of the protected area totally undermines the legal status of the world renowned Leuser Ecosystem. It will not only seriously impact biodiversity and regional carbon emissions, but also seriously jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of many thousands of Aceh’s 4 million people. We are requesting your urgent assistance. Visit Wildlife Asia Operation Aceh Fund to save this last piece of truly critical forest. We have a different vision for Aceh. We must protect the Leuser Ecosystem and the people who rely on it. The Aceh people have long fought to protect these forests because they provide us with clean water, food and are important for the next generation.” Tezar Pahlevie, winner of the 2013 GRASP Conservation award for his team’s work restoring rainforests damaged by illegal palm oil plantations.

In Indonesia’s rainforests the Orangutans are making their last stand for survival. Scientists warn that these gentle and intelligent animals, among humankind’s closest kin, could become extinct within our lifetime if their rainforest homes continue to be destroyed for palm oil plantations. It’s now estimated that only 6,600 Sumatran Orangutans are surviving in their shrinking rainforest habitat. The number one threat to the Sumatran Orangutan is illegal deforestation driven by the palm oil expansion. Without urgent action this species could be the first great ape to become extinct in the wild. Sumatran Tigers, Elephants and Rhinos also live in the forests Gunung Leuser National Park, the only place on the planet where that occurs.  

Rainforests Destroyed for Palm Oil Products.

We are all very concerned that huge areas of the Leuser Rainforest Ecosystem will be cut apart and fragmented by roads and made available for logging and palm oil conversion. This would be disastrous for Aceh. These forested water catchments are essential for Aceh’s rice production. As far as we can see, the new plan is certainly not in the interests of the majority of Acehnese. Destruction of these forests is solely in the interests of the short term benefit of a few, already extremely rich and powerful elite.

Palm oil production is leading cause of deforestation in Indonesia. And thus is the primary threat pushing these endangered animals toward extinction. This product lies very close to home: you’ll find it hidden in the snack food aisle of your local supermarket or store and most likely end up sitting in your own shopping cart.

A global ongoing campaign to make people aware of palm oil and demand that big name brands cut their links to dirty palm oil production is ongoing. And the pressure is working, with new companies are announcing No Deforestation policies almost weekly.
Thanks to hard work RAN, Greenpeace and consumer pressure, the palm oil industry is moving on this issue. Several of the Snack Food 20 companies have already committed to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from their supply chain, or are in the process of doing so. But 5 of the biggest players are still dragging their feet. Pepsi, Kraft, Campbell's, Heinz and ConAgra are feeling the heat. But so far, they have all refused to act. Now is the time to increase the pressure and push these companies to take a stand for Orangutans, the other wildlife, the rainforest and the families who live and work there.
Changing corporation’s palm oil policies won’t just help protect Leuser and other Indonesian rainforest. When major brand start demanding no deforestation palm oil, suppliers around the world will have to stop cutting down forests to keep their customers. This single campaign could protect forests across the globe from destruction for palm oil plantations.
Protect Leuser Rainforest - Support the Campaign Against Palm Oil Plantations.

We need to make sure that what’s left of the world’s rainforests, like Leuser are protected, not opened up to palm oil and other companies seeking to profit from rainforest destruction. Environmentalists say this will almost certainly drive the endangered animals in the area to extinction. We can't let that happen. More long-term economic benefits would be found through sustainable industries such as tourism and education. Please publicise this situation, write letters and petition the government of Indonesia to protect the Leuser Ecosystem. And support the campaign against Conflict Palm Oil. This is an urgent situation that requires action, as the people and wildlife of Leuser need support from people around the world to save them. Please act to help the preserve the Leuser Rainforest and the Orang-utans, Tigers, Rhinos and other wild animals that inhabit these forests.  

*And winner of the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize - the worlds most prestigious award for grassroots environmental activism.

To read more information about Leuser and the campaign against Palm Oil contact:
Palm Oil | Rainforest Action Network

Visit Wildlife Asia Operation Aceh Fund to save this last piece of truly critical forest habitat. Palm Oil Campaign.

Sources- Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace.

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