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Indonesia’s biodiversity-protected areas no match for encroachers, finds study

Indonesia’s biodiversity-focused protected areas are failing to slow deforestation, while other categories have achieved mixed results, according to a new study by National University of Singapore researchers.

The study, which draws on remote-sensing maps of land-use change from 2000 to 2010, claims to confirm that Indonesia’s protected areas have suffered from a bullseye put on their high-value timber by the exhaustion of logging concessions in the 1990s.

“This turn of events is alarming because it shows that protected areas of category Ia—the main strongholds of biodiversity conservation—could be poorly enforced,” says the study, titled “Analysis of deforestation and protected area effectiveness in Indonesia: A comparison of Bayesian spatial models” and published in Global Environmental Change‘s March issue.

A pink and red ginger flower found in the protected area of Gunung Leuser National Park. Photo by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

“When in the 1990s it was relatively easy to harvest timber in logging concessions without resorting to harvest within protected areas, protected areas seemed effective. Under the current context in which the scarcity of logging concessions forces loggers to overcome the fear of incurring liabilities, protected areas appear weak.

“The reason why category Ia behaves differently to other less strict categories might respond to the fact that, due to their stricter management in the past, they contain some of the main remnants of high-value timber.”

The study also cites as a driver of deforestation in these areas widespread conversion of forests to farmland, a result of rising prices for agricultural commodities.

To reduce the pressure on protected areas, the study suggests buffering them with new logging concessions to meet the demand for timber. It also recommends stepping up enforcement, providing small-scale farmers with alternate livelihoods and being more circumspect about building new roads. The research found roads cause deforestation and not the reverse, which is sometimes contended.

“This reinforces the idea that careful road planning is fundamental for tropical forest conservation. … Road constructions should circumvent the proximity of biodiversity hotspots and protected areas as much as possible.”


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