Mega-corporation still destroying forests, despite green pledge

Does the mega-corporation APRIL -- which has cleared more than a million hectares of native forest in Sumatra, Indonesia -- speak with a forked tongue? 

Rainforest clearing in central Sumatra by APRIL  (photo by William Laurance)

Rainforest clearing in central Sumatra by APRIL (photo by William Laurance)

That certainly seems to be the case, based on recent photos of forest destruction in Sumatra, captured by Greenpeace.

APRIL made headline news earlier this year with a high-profile 'no-deforestation pledge'.  Many observers had doubts, however, including ALERT director Bill Laurance in this essay.

APRIL -- also known as Asia Pacific Resources International Limited -- is one of the world's biggest producers of paper pulp.  Much of this has come from clearing native forests in Sumatra -- turning rainforest trees into pulp and then planting exotic tree species in their place.

Rainforest timber stacked up outside APRIL's wood-pulp plant in Sumatra  (photo by William Laurance)

Rainforest timber stacked up outside APRIL's wood-pulp plant in Sumatra (photo by William Laurance)

APRIL has long been criticized for its forest-destroying ways -- see, for instance, this TV interview with Bill Laurance on Australia's Foreign Correspondent program -- but seemed to be turning over a new leaf with its no-deforestation pledge.

Alas, the doubting Thomases may have been correct.  APRIL claims the new, large-scale forest destruction is consistent with their pledge -- but 'no deforestation' means 'no deforestation', right?

Why are Indonesia's forests so imperiled?

No nation on Earth is losing forest faster than Indonesia--the magical land of over 13,000 islands.  But what is causing all that deforestation?

No. 1 forest killer--industrial pulpwood plantation (photo by William Laurance)

No. 1 forest killer--industrial pulpwood plantation (photo by William Laurance)

Sinan Abood, ALERT member Lian Pin Koh, and their colleagues assessed the specific drivers of forest loss in Indonesia, between 2000 and 2010.  The picture that emerged has some surprises.

For one thing, the biggest driver of forest loss wasn't oil palm, but rather industrial pulpwood plantations.  Mega-corporations such as Asia Pulp & Paper and APRIL have cleared vast expanses of rainforest and peat-swamp forest for such plantations, especially in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo.

Second on the list was industrial logging.  This indicates that logged forests in Indonesia, which still harbor a great deal of biodiversity (see this blog), are intensely vulnerable to being cleared.

Oil palm, while still important, was actually number three on the list of industrial forest destroyers. 

Notably, the authors surmised that over half of all deforestation was caused by actors other than the big three above--including slash-and-burn farming, legal and illegal mining, and other causes.

The authors conclude that vast expanses of Indonesia's forest have been allocated to industrial concessions, especially logging concessions, where they are intensely vulnerable to being cleared.  Some of the greatest conservation opportunities in Asia revolve around finding ways to protect these imperiled industrial forests

Indonesian politician gets 14 years for illegal logging permits

The former governor of Riau Province in Sumatra, Indonesia has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for issuing illegal logging permits.  The Riau region has suffered catastrophic forest loss over the last decade.

Legal?  Forest clearing by APRIL in Sumatra (photo by William Laurance)

Legal?  Forest clearing by APRIL in Sumatra (photo by William Laurance)

An anti-corruption court in Sumatra found former Governor Rusli Zainai guilty of embezzlement in relation to the logging permits and several construction projects.

The illegal permits were issued to subsidiaries of APP (Asian Pulp & Paper) and APRIL (Asia Pacific Resources International Limited), two major producers of wood pulp in Sumatra.  The two mega-corporations have logged and cleared several million hectares of native rainforest for their pulp plantations.

After years of being vilified internationally, both APP and APRIL now claim to be cleaning up their acts environmentally, bringing in 'no deforestation' policies (see our blog below). 

Predatory...   Rainforest timber stockpiled outside APRIL's Riau woodpulp plant (photo by William Laurance)

Predatory...   Rainforest timber stockpiled outside APRIL's Riau woodpulp plant (photo by William Laurance)

At least initially, APP appears to be passing muster, but the jury is still out on APRIL.

Some, however, believe the corporations are getting off too lightly, and along with crooked politicians should also be facing prosecution for their recent legacy of corruption and predatory behavior. 

Are global forest-destroyers turning over a new leaf?

Is the world shifting on its axis?  For those who follow the behavior of the biggest forest-destroying corporations, it might seem so.

Will forest-killing corporations give up their axes?  (photo by Chi'en Lee)

Will forest-killing corporations give up their axes?  (photo by Chi'en Lee)

In a piece just published in The Conversation, I highlight how four of the world's biggest oil palm and wood-pulp corporations seem to be changing their stripes--pledging to halt the clearing of native forests and vegetation. 

But is the story too good to be true?  Read all about it here.

-Bill Laurance