Overlapping concession rights issued by the local government is now jeopardizing the development of a biodiversity corridor linking a forest block and a natural park in Central Kalimantan which are the natural habitat for many animals, including threatened species such as orangutan.

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The corridor goes through areas under the concessions of PT Gemilang Makmur Subur (GMS), a subsidiary of Bumitama Gunajaya Agro (BGA) and the adjacent plantation of PT Kayu Agung Agro Lestari (PT KAL) owned by Austindo Nusantara Jaya, but some areas of the corridor also overlaps the concession given to mining concern PT Laman Mining.

“This is one of the most serious threats for the development of this corridor,” said Martin Mach, BGA Sustainability & Legal Specialist. He said that further efforts would be needed to lobby the government at district and provincial levels to avoid any further clearing or development on the forested areas or on the areas designated as a corridor by PT KAL and PT GMS and failure to do that will threaten the long-term viability of this project.

The biodiversity corridor is deemed necessary to connect the Sungai Putri forest block and the Gunung Palung National Park to allow the natural dispersal and connectivity between these two main orangutan populations. The construction of a road will not only discourage animal movements and draw more illegal loggers into the area, but also obstruct a river and consequently negatively impact High Carbon Stock forest, peat domes, and peatland.

The migration corridor is part of the 1,800 hectare Kawasan Ekosistem Essential (Essential Ecosystem Area)  or KEE, a protected area recognized by the West Kalimantan Governor through a decree issued last year. It deals with areas outside of conservation areas under government-issued business licenses, that are managed and protected following conservation principles in order to maintain the functions of the ecosystems, protect biodiversity and to benefit the surrounding communities.

On August 3, 2018, Bumitama reported on its website that a road had been cut across the Bumitama Biodiversity and Community Project (“BBCP”) despite the area being protected as KEE.

“This matter has already a multiparty concern in West Kalimantan. Based on information from the regional map, there is indeed an overlapping with the KEE area managed by PT BGA and PT KAL,” said Lorens, IDH Indonesia Landscape Manager, West Kalimantan. IDH Indonesia initiated the convening of the West Kalimantan Province and Ketapang District governments, the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Bumitama and ANJ Group that led to the setting up of the KEE.  

The  BBCP conservation area inside PT GMS overlaps with the permit of bauxite mining company PT Laman Mining. Indonesian regulations grant mining licenses priority over permits of plantation companies, however, the protection status of KEE should have ensured that these areas would not be zoned for development. Clearing of a road across this High Conservation Value area by PT Laman Mining throws the success of the whole project into doubt.

The mining road, 1.5 kilometers long and 30 meters wide, is also said to cut through the Kuala Tolak river which flows westwards through the corridor from the Gunung Tarak, supplies water to the peat swamp forest of Sungai Putri. Obstructing the river may have a negative offsite impact for the 30,000 ha of HCS forest containing peat domes. Peat soils are very vulnerable and easily ignite when dried, emitting huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Blocking the river and draining parts of this area can a have a catastrophic knock-on effect for the whole landscape.

Additionally, opening a new road will draw more illegal loggers into the area, resulting in increased forest degradation and destruction of one of the largest remaining populations of the Bornean orangutan.

A query sent to PT Laman Mining’s Executive director Beni Bevly by email has remained unanswered. The Ketapang District Development Planning Board (BPPD) could also not be immediately reached for comment.

A survey conducted by Yayasan Inisiasi Alam Rehabilitasi Indonesia (YIARI), last year concluded that if orangutans are to be preserved in the area and be able to disperse to other populations, it is essential that these forest areas be connected. The survey was aimed at determining the density and distribution of orangutans in PT DAS and PT GMS as well as the botanical diversity, forest condition and habitat suitability for orangutans in the proposed corridor region.

The studies also advised that the corridor, as well as the surrounding landscape, is to be maintained and enhanced and that further land clearing is to be avoided, especially on peatland, that the biodiversity in the set-aside areas is to be regularly monitored by a trained patrolling team. Instead of punitive actions, the team should rather approach any illegal loggers operating in the area with a proposal of alternative livelihood programs.

It said that as a multi-stakeholder project, BBCP should continue, with further involvement of YIARI especially with a focus on the development of a conservation working plan and SOPs for human-orangutan conflict mitigation which would then be socialized to BGA staff and local communities.

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