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Indonesian activists denounce a road being built illegally in leopard habitat

  • Environmental activists and residents have demanded a road project in Indonesia’s West Java province be scrapped because it lacks the required permits and could exacerbate floods and landslides.
  • The road will cut through a protected forest on Mount Cikuray, home to Javan leopards and other threatened wildlife.
  • District authorities have admitted they began clearing forest for the project before obtaining the necessary permits from the central government.
  • The national parliament and the environment ministry have also weighed in on the issue, with the latter saying it will investigate and may order the project stopped.

JAKARTA — Conservationists and affected communities have slammed a plan to build a road through a jungle-clad mountain in Indonesia’s West Java province, citing the lack of permits and the threat of exacerbated flooding and landslides in the area.

The planned Poros Tengah, or “Central Axis,” road will run 8 kilometers (5 miles), part of it through a protected forest area on Mount Cikuray in Garut district. The reserve is home to some of the most threatened wildlife in Indonesia, including the Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas), silvery gibbon (Hylobates moloch), Javan hawk-eagle (Nisaetus bartelsi), and green peafowl (Pavo muticus).

Opponents of the project have criticized the Garut administration’s insistence on pushing the project through in violation of administrative requirements. The project lacks the requisite licenses, including one for converting a forested area, known by its Indonesian abbreviation IPPKH, and an environmental impact assessment, known as an Amdal.

“We did make a mistake,” Rudy Gunawan, the Garut district head, told local media on March 3. “While the [IPPKH] was yet to be issued and the Amdal wasn’t completed, we already cleared the land.”

Rudy said he had since called for the project to be halted until the licenses are issued. He added he was confident the environment ministry would approve the project, citing the importance of the proposed road.

The Garut administration has pitched the project as urgent, saying an existing road serving the same route is on the verge of collapsing. Rudy added the road will also provide greater access to a tourist site being developed in southern Garut.

The district head said he would meet with opponents of the project to resolve the dispute.

A pair of Javan leopards captured on camera trap. Image courtesy of Conservation International.

Among those calling for the project to be stopped is the Save Cikuray Consortium, which comprises local environmental groups. Usep Ebit Mulyana, a coordinator of the consortium, said clearing the forest for the road in this hilly area will loosen the soil, leading to greater erosion and worsening the intensity of the mudslides that occasionally hit the area during heavy rains.

Ebit said activists and residents have repeatedly called on the Garut district administration to scrap the project, but to no avail. Construction crews have cleared an 800-meter (half-mile) ribbon of forest for the road, which is designed to connect two subdistricts on either side of the mountain. The country’s largest green group, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), says construction is already under way along half of the total proposed road; 2 km (1.2 mi) of the stretch will pass through the protected forest.

This part of Garut was hit by intense flooding and landslides in September 2016 that left 27 people dead. Experts and officials attributed the scale of the disaster to environmental degradation at higher altitudes. Much of the forested area has been cleared for tourism sites, including newly built resorts.

“The ecological damage in the Mount Cikuray area has become more obvious through this land-use change,” Ebit said as quoted by local media. “Illegal logging becomes rampant and then the habitats of protected wildlife are disrupted.”

The road project, budgeted at just under $200,000, could also affect water sources for local communities, Ebit said. “If the watersheds are damaged from the upstream, how are the people downstream going to be able to use the water? This is what we’re concerned about,” he told local media.

A farmer plowing his field with buffalo at the foot of Mount Cikuray, in the background at right. Image by Donny Iqbal/Mongabay Indonesia.

Activists and residents have called on Perum Perhutani, the state-owned forestry company that manages the protected area, to block the road project. “Perhutani must not cherry-pick,” said Dedi Kurniawan, the head of the Indonesian Conservation Communication Forum. “When it’s the Garut government that develops roads without a permit, they let them be, but when it’s the people that want to benefit from the forest, they will strictly enforce the law and even imprison them.”

Dedi Mulyadi, a member of the national parliament whose constituency includes Garut, has also called on the relevant authorities to stop the project, which he warns could lead to illegal encroachment into the forest area.

“Garut is the last hope for ecosystem management in the land of Sunda, so it’s best that the development project be reviewed,” Dedi, who sits on the parliamentary commission overseeing environmental affairs, told local media.

The environment ministry says it will send a team to evaluate the project and possibly even shut it down for permit violations. Ebit said the ministry should be firm about enforcing its regulations, given that the Garut administration has already begun construction despite not having the proper permits.

“We demand enforcement of the law because the forest has been damaged,” he told local media.

A Javan leopard captured on camera trap. Image courtesy of Conservation International.

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