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Harrison Ford causes stir investigating deforestation in Indonesia

Harrison Ford in Tesso Nilo National Park, Sumatra. Photo by Zamzami of Mongabay-Indonesia.

Harrison Ford sparked a complaint from Indonesia’s top forest official after the actor asked a series of tough questions about ongoing rainforest destruction in the Southeast Asian nation, reports Indonesian state media.

Ford is in Indonesia filming a segment for Years of Living Dangerously, a Showtime documentary on climate change. The actor, known for his roles as Indiana Jones and Star Wars’ Hans Solo, is taking a first hand look at deforestation in Sumatra. He’s also interviewing several prominent officials, including Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, on deforestation and forest conservation.

But it was Ford’s interview with Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan that made headlines in Indonesia today, when ANTARA News and other outlets reported that the official was upset over his encounter with the actor, who asked why Indonesia is failing to effectively protect its forests.

“I understand the American man just came here to see Tesso Nilo and wanted violators to be caught the same day,” ANTARA quoted Zulkifli as saying. “It was not easy to explain it to him. He was very emotional. His temper was high during the interview. I could understand his love for the fauna, the environment and the rain forests in Indonesia.”

“The time was very short. I was only given an opportunity to speak one or two words during the interview.”

Deforestation for palm oil in Indonesian Borneo.
Deforestation for palm oil in Indonesian Borneo. Photos by Rhett A. Butler.

In recent years Ford has been an outspoken advocate for rainforest protection. Given that Indonesia has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates due to logging, forest conversion for industrial plantations, and fires set for land-clearing, it is no surprise the actor is focusing on the country. Rainforest loss and peatlands degradation account for more than 80 percent of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and a a substantial threat to endangered orangutans, tigers, rhinos, and elephants.

During his time in Southeast Asia, Ford is also meeting with Franky Widjaja, the chairman of Golden-Agri Resources (GAR), one of Indonesia’s largest palm oil producers. GAR notably broke ranks with the rest of the industry in 2011 when it established a no deforestation policy. The policy is now seen by an environmentalists as possible way forward for the palm oil sector, which today is the biggest driver of deforestation in the country.

Deforestation for palm oil in Sumatra.
Deforestation for palm oil in Borneo.

Jeff Horowitz, an associate producer Years of Living Dangerously, said the series won’t overlook some of the recent progress Indonesia has made in slowing deforestation.

“We chose to film our story in Indonesia because of the critical challenges they face in balancing the need to protect tropical forests with the need to secure economic development,” he told “We appreciate the progress they’ve made so far – especially with regard to establishing several sustainable agricultural practices.”

Years of Living Dangerously is expected to air next April.

Video: Harrison Ford with conservationists in Indonesia’s Tesso Nilo National Park. Courtesy of Mongabay-Indonesia

Photo by Zamzami of Mongabay-Indonesia.

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