Conservationists get used to hearing bad news. But here is some outstanding news, as announced today in an ALERT press release.
An Indonesian Province the size of Norway has just committed publicly to protect at least 83 percent of its land area as undisturbed natural habitat—a goal that immediately marks it as a world leader in environmental conservation.
Promise for Papua
The Province of Papua, which comprises four-tenths of the South Pacific island of New Guinea, announced its commitment at the end of meetings this week in Jayapura, the Provincial capital.
The commitment was made by Assistant Governor Elia Loupatty, accompanied by the heads or representatives of 13 provincial agencies in Papua. ALERT director Bill Laurance briefed the group on conservation research before the announcement.
“This is a remarkable milestone—one that should echo around the world,” said Judith Dipodiputro, coordinator of Project Papua, an initiative of Indonesian President Joko Widodo that is promoting sustainable development in the region.
The 83 percent figure for conservation—which could reach as high as 90 percent—follows from a government plan that maps future development in the province.
Challenges and Opportunities
A key challenge for Papua Province is balancing economic and social development with conservation.
The province has some 3.5 million inhabitants, many living in remote villages, who aspire for better living conditions.
And it is building some 4,000 kilometers of major new roads, known as the Trans-Papuan Highway, that will stretch across the province. By opening up many formerly inaccessible areas, the new roads will bring both increased development opportunities and sizable environmental risks.
For example, the Trans-Papuan Highway is cutting through Lorentz National Park, which harbors outstanding natural and cultural values. A World Heritage site spanning 2.35 million hectares, Lorentz is the largest protected area in the entire Asia-Pacific region.
Despite such serious challenges, the 83-percent commitment is a remarkable pledge for conservation in one of the world’s most biologically and culturally rich regions.
Clearly, the Papua government is going to need significant support—both from the international community and the Indonesian federal government—to achieve its ambitious conservation commitment.
But who could doubt the timeliness of such investments? It appears to be one of our very best chances today to protect a vast and vital region for the benefit of nature, Indonesians, and future generations.
Lead image: Victoria Crowned Pigeon (photo (c) Ruth Choi).