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Aceh draft bylaw risks forests, say activists

Jakarta Post - March 14, 2013

Jakarta – Environmental activists have called on the government to review the draft spatial planning bylaw proposed by the Aceh administration, which they say is putting the province's protected forests at risk.

Farwiza of the Koalisi Peduli Hutan Aceh (Coalition of Aceh Rainforest Movement) said that the new spatial planning bylaw, known as RTRW, would allow the conversion of around 1.2 million hectares of the existing 3.78 million hectares of protected forests into plantations.

The draft bylaw, which was prepared under newly elected Governor Zaini Abdullah, would reduce the total protected forest level from about 68 percent to 45 percent of the total land. The proposal has been submitted to the Forestry Ministry for approval.

Farwiza said the RTRW also included a plan to construct a road network throughout protected forests in Aceh, with a total area of 554,928 hectares of land.

"The road will only connect less than two percent of the population, which mainly lives in the northern part of the region that isn't covered by the road network," Fawriza said in a press conference on Wednesday. "The road network will put the rest of the population at stake."

The coalition's Efendi Isma said the proposed spatial plan failed to consider the interests of local communities.

"The Aceh provincial government urged the central government to approve the bylaw based on the argument that it would boost Aceh's economy, when in fact it is purely to accommodate business interests," Efendi said.

He said most companies, including palm oil plantations and logging concessions that had secured operational permits (HGU) in Aceh, were foreign companies.

Separately, Graham F. Usher, landscape protection specialist of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, said that the plan also placed the Leuser Ecosystem, the home of terrestrial flora and fauna, under threat.

Gunung Leuser National Park covers an area of 623,987 hectares, taking in both lowland and mountainous forests in Aceh.

"Leuser is the only ecosystem in the world where all endangered species, including orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants, live in one place," Usher said. "The road network will give access to people who want to open up protected forests and hunt endangered species," he said.

Usher said Aceh was Sumatra's last hope of forest conservation and that the current number of rhinos left in Aceh was under 200.

"Aceh has the most complete spatial data, a result of the hard work of international and local aid groups after the tsunami. It's so frustrating to know that the administration has ignored this data and has proposed this plan," he said. (nad)