Bulldozers running amok in Eden?
That, essentially, is one of the key conclusions of a new landmark study of the Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, Indonesia — the last place on Earth where orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos still survive together.
The research, from an international team that includes several prominent ALERT scientists, raises just about every red flag imaginable.
The full study can be download here. Among its key findings:
· The Leuser Ecosystem, which spans 2.6 million hectares, is much more severely fragmented and vulnerable than previously understood.
· Road building is by far the biggest threat to Leuser — opening a Pandora’s Box of threats, including illegal deforestation, logging, palm oil plantations, wildlife poaching, and haze-creating fires.
· Much road-building in the Leuser Ecosystem is ‘unofficial’ — a polite way of saying ‘illegal in most cases’. Remarkably, there are twice as many illegal than legal roads, collectively totaling about 10,400 kilometers in length.
· Although parts of the Leuser Ecosystem are still intact and undisturbed, these blocks of intact forest rely crucially on “forest links” — vulnerable areas that must be urgently protected to limit further forest fragmentation.
Officially, Indonesia’s federal government has designated the Leuser Ecosystem a “National Strategic Area” for environmental services.
But these protective efforts were actively undermined — especially by the former government of Aceh Province, which contains most of the Leuser Ecosystem.
The previous government in Aceh planned to crisscross the Leuser Ecosystem with major new highways and energy projects — schemes detailed in its notorious “Aceh Spatial Plan”.
One project — which ALERT has labeled the “Highway of Death” — would slice the Leuser Ecosystem completely in half.
Equally alarming are a spate of new energy projects — mostly hydroelectric dams and geothermal projects — that would be located deep in the forest.
Besides flooding or destroying forests, these energy projects would require networks of new roads for construction and maintenance — roads that would cut into the heart of the Leuser Ecosystem, opening it up to a range of serious human pressures.
New Governor, New Hope
A bright new hope for the Leuser Ecosystem was the election last year of Irwandi Yusuf as Governor of Aceh Province.
Governor Irwandi has been far more sympathetic to the plight of Leuser Ecosystem than his predecessor.
Thanks to Governor Irwandi, most of the large highway and energy schemes ready to devastate the Leuser Ecosystem are on hold.
And government authorities and conservationists struggling alongside him to protect the Leuser Ecosystem are stretched desperately thin. Illegal activities are rampant.
Most of all, far too little attention is being paid to the devastating one-two punch of new roads and fragmentation. Eden can’t survive if it is sliced and diced into small pieces.
The only way to save Leuser is to silence the roaring bulldozers.