Balikpapan. Primary forest cover in East Kalimantan has been depleted from 19 million hectares in the 1960s to just 4 million hectares today due to legislation allowing foreign companies into the local forestry sector, a researcher said on Friday.
Bernaulus Saragih, head of the Natural Resources Study Center at Mulawarman University in Samarinda, the provincial capital, said on Friday that the massive deforestation in the province was triggered by 1967’s Law on Foreign Investment (PMA).
“The degradation of primary forests in East Kalimantan was drastic after 1967. That was because the PMA law allowed the rate of degradation to increase significantly” by allowing foreign loggers and plantation companies in, he said.
While Indonesian firms are the No. 1 concession holders in the province, the US Department of Agriculture noted last year that “Malaysian companies have collectively established over 1 million hectares of active oil palm plantations in Indonesia and own a further 1 million hectares of land [that] has official permits allowing its development in the future.”
Bernaulus said other policies that had contributed to the high rate of deforestation included zoning regulations to assign large tracts of forests for plantation, logging and mining operations as well as for human settlement.
Should the opening up of the province’s forests continue at current rates, he warned, there would be no more primary forest cover left in just a few years.
Izal Wardana, executive director of the East Kalimantan chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said the loss meant the province no longer complied with a zoning regulation requiring 30 percent of the total land area of 20.45 million hectares to be forested.
He warned that the province was losing 500,000 hectares of forest each year and that new infrastructure projects were threatening previously untouched tracts of virgin forest.
Izal urged the provincial administration to freeze the issuance of new forestry concessions and evaluate existing operations, including exhausted mining and plantation operations that have left behind an estimated 8.1 million hectares of degraded land.