03 June 2021 / EoF Investigative Report
A quarter century ago, the area’s natural forest was connected to other forests on the island. Now Bukit Tigapuluh’s close to 320,000 hectares of natural forest are isolated, surrounded by plantations and deforested lands. But they form the island’s largest remaining concentration of low lying forest blocks on non-peat soil, representing a critically endangered “eco-floristic sector”.
For nearly 30 years, the Government of Indonesia and conservation organizations have made attempts to preserve the landscape. However, today, only 42 percent (134,834 hectares) of the remaining forest – in the steepest, most hilly area – is under protection as Bukit Tigapuluh National Park. Despite high-level political commitments, a large portion of the remaining forest outside the park, mostly covering the flat low lying areas, is under immediate threat of large-scale commercial conversion for pulp and paper production, much of it by Asia Pulp & Paper of the Sinar Mas Group (APP/SMG) and its wood suppliers and affiliated concession holders.
APP/SMG has launched a global publicity offensive to counter criticism about its destruction of Indonesia’s natural forests. The company claims to no longer source pulpwood from natural forests. But by 2010, close to 60% of the remaining unprotected forest in the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape was feared to be in direct line of APP/SMG bulldozers ready to supply the company’s pulp mills.
This study reveals how APP/SMG-affiliated companies built a new and likely illegal logging and wood transport highway that cuts the Bukit Tigapuluh Landscape in half. It was constructed through High 4 Conservation Value Forests without an environmental impact assessment. It has been rapidly damaging the landscape by giving access to illegal encroachers who otherwise could not have reached these forests.
Despite recent and repeated calls on APP to stop pulping High Conservation Value Forests in the PT. Artelindo Wiratama and PT. Tebo Multiagro Corporation concessions, the two affiliates continued to clear close to 14,000 hectares of natural forest, 8 percent of the remaining unprotected forest in the Bukit Tigapuluh area in 2010.
WWF’s historical analysis of Sumatra’s natural forest, biodiversity and carbon values between 1985 and 2009 identified some of the Bukit Tigapuluh natural forest remaining in 2008-09 as No. 1 conservation priority for non-peat forests in Sumatra. Most of this forest lies outside the national park. The analysis also identified some of the already-deforested areas as No. 1 restoration priority for Sumatran non-peat soil areas.
It is proposed that the Government of Indonesia applies the moratorium on natural forest and peat conversion that it committed to in its climate partnership with Norway to all existing concessions surrounding Bukit Tigapuluh National Park.