May 3, 2018

Minister intensifies crackdown on illicit practices in Leuser reserve

( - While the majority of the Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve, the largest peat forest landscape in the Leuser Ecosystem located in the southern part of Aceh, remains relatively intact, this is under increasingly serious threat from encroachment and illegal logging.

These destructive illegal practices clearly represent part of an organized crime movement involving various actors, some of whom have now been declared suspects and are under ongoing investigation in this matter.

In light of this, increased scrutiny of local officials implicated in the illegal operations in the wildlife reserve should be one of the priorities as part of enhanced efforts to protect the wildlife reserve. 

These were among the key points touched on by Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya in a presentation on efforts to raise the level of protection for the wildlife reserve, delivered in her office at the ministry building (May 2).

The minister’s presentation was attended by three of the ministry’s top officials; Secretary General Bambang Hendroyono, Director General of Law Enforcement Rasio “Roy” Ridho Sani, and Director General of Forestry Planology and Environmental Planning Sigit Hardwinarto.

“I have written to the Governor of Aceh requesting him to enhance the supervision of local officials who are implicated in encroachment and illegal logging in parts of the wildlife reserve,” the minister explained.

A ground-check carried out by a ministry team uncovered evidence of recently-performed illicit activities in the wildlife reserve (97°40'32.809"E - 2°44'59.809"N). In addition to encroachment and illegal logging, there was also evidence of canal construction, as seen in the following photos: 

This is not the first time the ministry has cracked down on criminal elements in the Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve. In early November 2016, reported on a law enforcement action undertaken by the ministry in which illegal loggers were caught red-handed and ultimately ended up in jail.

The minister had a serious warning for perpetrators of illegal activities in the wildlife reserve. “Law enforcement procedures aimed at protecting the wildlife reserve are underway and now being intensified.”

Relatively intact forest still dominant 

Using satellite data, Minister Nurbaya demonstrated that most of the wildlife reserve (delineated in black) is still dominated by relatively intact forest, as is apparent in the following USGS Landsat 8 images.

This is backed up by recent evidence on the ground also demonstrating that major parts of the wildlife reserve are still composed of relatively intact peat forests.

This predominance of relatively intact peat forests in the wildlife reserve, as evidenced by accurate time-series satellite data, is depicted in the following photos:

However, the minister cautioned that the wildlife reserve faces real and growing threats to its pristineness and, as such, there is no other choice but to step up protective efforts, especially through more rigorous monitoring and law enforcement measures.

“It is clearly evident from year to year that this wildlife reserve is being eaten away bit by bit, in particular by organized crime,” she lamented.

The minister pointed out that the wildlife reserve, a peat forest complex greater in area than Singapore, is one of the last remaining homes for the Sumatran orangutan and tiger. She added that it is a peat ecosystem whose legal preservation is absolute. 

“This wildlife reserve represents an intergenerational legacy which we need to defend using legal means. Our mandate is clear,” Minister Nurbaya emphasized.