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36,000 hectares of Aceh's Leuser ecosystem lost to logging

Jakarta Globe - November 11, 2009

The equivalent of about 10,000 football fields of forest have been lost each year for the past five years in Aceh's Leuser ecosystem due to illegal logging and the clearing of land for palm plantations and new roads.

The head of Leuser's Administrative Agency, Fauzan Azima, said in early 2005 that forest covered 1,982,000 hectares, but by late 2009 it only spanned 1,946,000 hectares.

"The damage to the Leuser ecosystem's forest in the last five years is 1.8 percent of the total area, or 0.36 percent average deforestation annually," Fauzan said. "That means the area loses 7,200 hectares a year."

The agency gathered the data from satellite images from the NASA's Landsat program. Based on the images, the regions of Rawa Tripa in Nagan Raya and Southwest Aceh; Rawa Kluet, South Aceh; Karang Baru and Manyak Payed, Aceh Tamiang; Lawe Mamas and Lawe Alas, Southeast Aceh; and a corridor between Peunaron and Lokop Seurbajadi, East Aceh, have been most affected.

Mining, transmigration and natural disasters were also found to have contributed to deforestation in the area.

"We are really concerned with the deforestation of the Leuser ecosystem. Moreover, the protected forest has been named one of the nation's strategic areas," Fauzan said, adding that his agency would intensify land and air patrols and monitoring to curb the rate of deforestation.

Currently, the agency is rehabilitating 2,500 hectares of land in Aceh Tamiang, from a total of 15,000 hectares planned for reforestation.

"We are also employing a cultural approach to the people who damage the forest, as well as educating them about the borders and the importance of the Leuser ecosystem for the livelihood of Aceh's people and the world in the future," Fauzan added.

The Leuser ecosystem, which stretches across 11 districts in Aceh and North Sumatra, is well known for being home to many endangered species of flora and fauna, including the rhinoceros, orangutans, tigers and elephants native to Sumatra.

Last month, Greenomics Indonesia announced that from 2006 to 2009, some 200,329 hectares of trees in Aceh were systematically cut down to supply woods for post-tsunami reconstruction in the province.

Although Aceh's governor, Irwandi Yusuf, has imposed a moratorium on logging, deforestation in the province has continued due to illegal logging operations. Despite this, Yusuf has claimed that the moratorium has saved about 500,000 hectares of Aceh's forest as the government prevented five major logging companies from working in the area. Nurdin Hasan