Mining company working with Indonesian govt to strip forest of protected status

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
April 16, 2013

A Toronto-listed mining company says it is working closely with the Indonesian government to strip the protected status of some 1.2 million hectares of forest on the island of Sumatra.

In a statement issued Tuesday, East Asia Minerals Corporation (TSX:EAS) claimed it is actively involved in the process of devising a new spatial plan for Aceh province, Sumatra's western-most province. The proposed changes to the spatial plan, which governs land use in the province, would re-zone large areas of protected forest in Aceh for industrial activities, including nearly a million hectares for mining, 416,086 ha for logging, and 256,250 ha for for oil palm plantations.

"The company is working closely with government officials in the country and have company representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from 'protected forest' to 'production forest'," East Asia Minerals said in a press release announcing the potential implications for its Miwah gold mining project. "Once forestry designation has been reclassified, the company will be granted the ability to continue the drilling program with the goal of expanding the resource at Miwah."

East Asia Minerals added that it "has implemented a new Corporate Social Responsibility program and hired ex-government officials to help them with these efforts." It also noted that the length of the reclassification "is primarily due to dealing with a coalition of environmental groups, and NGOs."

EAS mining sites in Aceh according to the company's 2010 financial report

Aceh's proposed spatial plan has been hotly contested by some environmental groups in Aceh, who say that re-zoning could jeopardize the province's world-renowned biodiversity, including endangered orangutans, rhinos, tigers, and elephants. Their concerns were echoed last month by a group of biologists and conservation scientists who warned that potential changes to the spatial plan could undermine some of the ecological services that underpin province's economy and well-being of its citizens.

"Aceh forests are essential for food security, regulating water flows in both the monsoon and drought seasons to irrigate rice fields and other cash crops," stated a declaration issued at the conclusion of the annual meeting held by the Asia chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC). "Forest disruption in Aceh’s upland areas will increase the risk of destructive flooding for people living downstream in the coastal lowlands."

The group, which is the largest association of tropical conservation scientists, said the plan could hurt Aceh's food security and exacerbate conflict in a region that suffered from more than a decade of civil strife from the early 1990's to early 2000's.

Miwah site as presented in a 2013 EAS document

Supporters of the spatial plan revision say it will bring more investment to the province and boost industrial commodity production.

East Asia Minerals has gold, silver, and copper mining operations in Aceh and North Sulawesi. In 2011 it purchased half of Carbon Conservation, a forest carbon project developer that aimed to capitalize on carbon credits generated under the proposed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program before foundering due to slow market conditions.

East Asia Minerals had a market capitalization of $18 million as of April 16, 2013, down from a 52-week high of $48 million in May 2012.

AUTHOR: Rhett Butler founded Mongabay in 1999. He currently serves as president, head writer, and chief editor.

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Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com (April 16, 2013).

Mining company working with Indonesian govt to strip forest of protected status.