Paper Giant Illegally Clearing Forests: Environmentalists

JAKARTA ~ Rare elephants, tigers and orangutans are under threat from illegal land clearing on Sumatra island by one of Asia’s biggest pulp and paper companies, environmentalists said this week.

Regional giant Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and affiliates are clearing land and building an access road outside their legal concessions in the Bukit Tigapuluh area of Sumatra’s Jambi province, a coalition of five environmental groups said in a press release accompanying a new joint report.

“From our surveys and other NGO surveys we know this is a very critical habitat for tigers, elephants and recently introduced orangutans,” Desmarita Murni, a campaigner with WWF, one of the groups, said.

Bukit Tigapuluh is one of only two viable habitats for Sumatran elephants, along with Tesso Nilo forest in neighbouring Riau province, which is also under threat, Murni said.

Satellite images in November 2007 showed 20,000 hectares had already been illegally cleared by APP and related companies, Murni said.

Murni said some of the areas were still being auctioned off by the government, and were not yet legally open for clearing.

APP and affiliates were also breaking the law by creating forest plantations near vital watershed environments, she added.

The groups are requesting that APP observe a moratorium on land clearing and carry out an impact study on the environmental importance of the forest area, which is also home to indigenous peoples who rely on the forest for their livelihood.

APP and affiliated companies are already facing an Indonesian national police investigation into illegal logging in Riau. APP is observing a moratorium on landclearing in that province while the investigation continues.

APP spokeswoman Aida Greenbury told AFP that the company was not involved in illegal logging in Bukit Tigapuluh, but had not had time to look in detail into the groups’ allegations.

Illegal logging is widespread in Indonesia, where legal confusion and weak institutions mean offenders are rarely brought to account.

Rates of legal deforestation also alarm environmentalists, with land clearing for palm oil, pulp and paper helping make Indonesia the world’s third-highest carbon emitter.

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