The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that sets environmental standards for palm oil production, has passed a resolution to reconfirm that secondary and degraded forests can classified as High Conservation Value (HCV) areas. The designation could increase the area of forest conserved within oil palm plantations provided it has high conservation significance, such as serving as habitat for endangered species like orangutans, Sumatran tigers, and rhinos.
The measure, put forth by the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), was passed on the final day of the RSPO’s annual meeting.
“SOS wanted public acknowledgment from the RSPO that it is not only primary forests that have conservation value,” Helen Buckland, SOS UK Director, said in a statement. “This success sends a strong message that the palm oil industry acknowledges that even degraded forests can provide important habitats for endangered species, and that companies expecting to receive RSPO certification must not have cleared any forests which could have conservation value.”
The resolution requires the RSPO “publish a position statement which explicitly and publicly recognizes that secondary and degraded forests are important for conservation and should be protected where High Conservation Values are present, and a detailed public guidance document for RSPO-approved auditors and industry bodies, clarifying the important role that non-primary forests can play in conservation.”
“Conversion of forests to oil palm plantations is now considered the greatest cause of deforestation in Indonesia,” said Buckland. “It is therefore very important that RSPO ensures its members and auditors understand the value of even degraded forests to the survival of endangered species.”
Scientists say logged-over forest still retains considerable biodiversity, supporting 50-80 percent of its original biodiversity. By comparison, oil palm plantations are biological deserts.
“Most lowland forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan have been logged by commercial timber companies, or by illegal loggers, even within National Parks,” said Buckland. “With so little orangutan habitat remaining, it is vital to preserve even degraded forests to ensure the survival of this critically endangered species in the wild.”