Saving “The Corridor”

In a forest not far from the capital, local residents are stepping up to help protect the earth in an initiative that may give the next generation hope for the future. The people of Cipeuteuy village in Sukabumi, West Java, realized the weight on their shoulders was getting heavier and heavier after living side by side with a newly established national park.

Not only had they lost a source of income for the park prohibited them from obtaining anything from that protected land but they were also responsible for the biggest national park in Java. A 2003 Ministerial Decree expanded what was then Halimun National Park to the Mount Salak area, changing the name to Mount Halimun Salak National Park.

Covering more than 113,000 hectares of land approximately 100 kilometers southwest of Jakarta, the park is an amalgamation of two important ecosystems at Halimun and Mount Salak, which are connected by an 11-kilometer forest corridor. The people of Cipeuteuy live alongside that corridor, a swath of land deemed integral to the existence of the national park.

The newly appointed park head, Agus Priambodo, highlighted the importance of the forest corridor, not only to link both areas but also to ensure the sustainability of ecosystems, including endangered species, inside the protected forest. “The corridor is important to preserve the biological integrity to maintain the biodiversity in the area,” he said recently.

Endangered species like the silvery gibbon (Hylobates moloch), Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas) and Javan Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus bartelsz) found in the national park are at risk of extinction should the connection between Halimun and Salak be severed. Those animals, Agus added, may be forced to inbreed, which would endanger their lives should they mate with their own relatives within a secluded area.

The national park recorded only 17 Javan Hawk-Eagles in 2011, with 71 Javan leopards and 80 silvery gibbons. However, the poor condition of the corridor has left the cash strapped national park with the daunting task of maintaining and preserving the forest. Before becoming part of the national forest, the corridor was a plantation area used by state-owned forestry firm Perum Perhutani, which cooperated with local residents to produce valuable crops under a profit-sharing mechanism.

The remaining land was used by local residents who planted paddy, chilies, onions and other crops to meet their daily needs. The 2003 decree forced Perhutani to depart from the area. Before leaving, the company removed all their remaining assets, leaving deforested land with only wild shrubs remaining. At least 1,500 out of the 4,200 hectares ofland in the corridor were destroyed due to the Perhutani relocation.

That move not only had a negative impact on the environment but also on locals whose lives were greatly dependant on the forest for, among other things, clean water and firewood. Knowing the importance of the corridor to the continued existence of the forest and their own livelihoods, some concerned villagers formed a group to help restore the area with the assistance of local NGOs in April 2004.

“We are trying to bring the greenery back by involving some kampongs in replanting the area,” said Corridor Communities Network (Jarmaskor) leader Dayat Hidayat. Starting with only a few members, ilie movement spread into six kampongs with more than 1,000 members.

The group’s main goal is to restore the forest corridor by replanting the area with endemic vegetation like rasamala (Altingia Excelsa), manglid (Manglietia glavca), huru (Laura ceae) and puspa (Schima wallichii). The initiative supports the national park’s work to rehabilitate the forest, whose deforestation rate stands at an average 1.3 percent annually, based on the last survey.

Agus of the national park’ ac-knowledged his office’s limited abilities and budget, which led to the creation of the partnership with locals to conserve the jungle. “We try to maintain a coexistence between humans and the surroundings. That’s why we allowed them to plant the area with crops with the condition they should also participate in taking care of the national park,” Agus said.

Under the law, it is prohibited for people to plant or take anything under the park’s jurisdiction. However, the small amount of funds and human resources left Mount Halimun Salak National Park with no other option but to take advantage of legal loopholes to enable locals to take part in forest corridor restoration efforts. The partnership seems to have worked in some ways, including providing economic benefits to locals. Some forest areas that have been restored have turned into tourist attractions, providing additional income to local residents.

But, that doesn’t mean other challenges do not persist. Mulyadi Kamad of local NGO Biodiversity Conservation Indonesia discussed another problem related to the continued agricultural expansion in the forest corridor as a result of the increasing number of people living in the area.

At least two hectares of land are turned into agriculture fields every year, adding to the 740 hectares in the forest corridor currently being used for crops. However, the biggest threat, according to the national park, is the existence of a 1.6-kilometer road in the middle of the corridor. Agus explained that the road might isolate the habitats of endangered species, making them vulnerable to extinction.

He said the national park had been considering building either a plant canopy or an underground tunnel that would serve as a “bridge” to connect the areas separate by the road. Realizing the large investment required, the national park has invited other stakeholders to take part in the forest corridor rehabilitation program, believed to be the first at tempt at such a project in Indonesia.

One of the stakeholders that responded to the challenge was Chevron Corp., which operates a geothermal plant in the national park through Chevron Geothermal Salak (CGS). CGS introduced a Green Corridor Initiative (GCI) at the end oflast year to support the existing conservation programs in the corridor.

The company aims to disburse US$l million to restore 500 hectares ofland for the next five years. A part from restoring the land, the program also aims to improve the local economy through business courses and trainings, hoping to stop villagers from going back to the forest to earn a living.

GCI project manager and Chevron community specialist Dali Sabda Mulia said one of the reasons the program was launched was because the company’s renewable energy operation was highly d nded on the sustainability of the environment. However, the biggest concern remains to protect the area from natural disasters, Dali added.

A side from being a home to different plant and animal species, Mount Halimun Salak National Park plays a significant role as a water reservoir and catchment with more than 100 rivers and basins. “It is too bad not many people are aware of the existence of such important ecology not far from Jakarta,” Dali said. In order to involve more people, GCI is going viral through, in which anyone and everyone can support and participate in the program.

JAKARTAPOST :: 8 Mei 2012, Hal. 21