WWF Comes Under Fire Over Continued Riau Forest Clearing

An Indonesian police officer checks illegal logs seized by the police during a patrol in Pangkalan Gondai near Tesso Nilo natural forest, Riau province, Indonesia, 28 April 2008. Over-exploitation of forests due to illegal logging has resulted in a tremendous rate of deforestation in Indonesia. During the last 25 years, Riau has lost more than 4 million hectares of forest and forest cover has declined from 78 percent in 1982 to 27 percent today. Riau's deforestation is driven by the need to feed the mills of the pulp and paper companies and the expansion of the palm oil industry. Deforestation between 2005 and 2006 was 286,146 hectares, an 11 percent loss in just one year. This is the fastest deforestation rate in the world, the WWF reported. (EPA Photo/Mast Irham)

An Indonesian police officer checks illegal logs seized by the police during a patrol in Pangkalan Gondai near Tesso Nilo natural forest, Riau province, Indonesia, 28 April 2008. Over-exploitation of forests due to illegal logging has resulted in a tremendous rate of deforestation in Indonesia. During the last 25 years, Riau has lost more than 4 million hectares of forest and forest cover has declined from 78 percent in 1982 to 27 percent today. Riau’s deforestation is driven by the need to feed the mills of the pulp and paper companies and the expansion of the palm oil industry. Deforestation between 2005 and 2006 was 286,146 hectares, an 11 percent loss in just one year. This is the fastest deforestation rate in the world, the WWF reported. (EPA Photo/Mast Irham)

Indonesia’s Forest Ministry will investigate claims of continued deforestation in Riau’s protected Tesso Nilo National Park after lawmakers lashed out at the World Wildlife Fund’s allegedly unsuccessful efforts to slow forest clearing in one of Indonesia’s worst-hit provinces.

“We will evaluate [the WWF’s work],” Darori, the ministry’s director general for forest protection and nature conservation, told the Indonesian news portal antaranews.com. “If it proves to have no benefit, we will terminate the partnership.”

Darori’s statements followed the ministry’s analysis of a decade’s worth of satellite images of the park. The images showed the clearing of some 46,960 hectares of the protected forests over the past ten years.

The 83,068-hectare park is managed by the Tesso Nilo National Park Agency, a division of the Forest Ministry, in an area experiencing the most rapid rate of deforestation in Indonesia. Riau is home to two pulp mills and has been partitioned off in numerous concessions for logging and palm oil companies.

The World Wildlife Fund Indonesia has worked to slow the rate of clearing in the park, which is home to rare Sumatran tigers and elephants. The organization said that without their work the forest would have disappeared by 2007.

“Based on a World Bank analysis, with the rate of deforestation at Tesso Nilo National Park the forest would have disappeared by 2007,” WWF Indonesia conservation director Nazir Foead said. “Thanks to the efforts of the Forest Ministry, its NGO partners and the local community, we’ve managed to save 37,000 hectares of Tesso Nilo National Park.”

The head of the House of Representative’s commission on forests doubted the World Wildlife Fund made any impact on forest clearing in Riau.

“It is time for Indonesia to stop compromising with the WWF because it has failed to do anything,” Firman Subagyo, head of the commission, said. “They can only speak out and do black campaigns [against Indonesia] from abroad.

“Foreign NGOs like the WWF are like thieves visiting our homes to steal our treasures without us realizing it. The NGO’s arrogance has impacted our weakened industrial competitiveness overseas, which will end worsen Indonesia’s economy.”

Most of the region’s forests were cleared to make way for palm oil and rubber plantations, the World Wildlife Fund explained. Nearly 47,000 hectares of land in the national park have been converted to plantations.

Local police need to step up and prosecute those responsible for clearing protected lands, Nazir said.

“Law enforcement is an important measure to tackle the clearing [of forests],” he said, “especially when it involves perpetrators with big bank accounts.”