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Unlawful logging threatens Indonesia's largest protected forest

Gunung Leuser National Park
Gunung Leuser National Park provides both a critical watershed and a refuge for vanishing wildlife such as elephants, orangutans and tigers.  

November 5, 1999
Web posted at: 9:00 a.m. EST (1400 GMT)

From Correspondent Gary Strieker

(CNN) -- One of Indonesia's largest remaining tracts of forest, though officially protected by the government, faces a growing threat from rampant unlawful logging, local conservationists say.

At Gunung Leuser National Park in Northern Sumatra, lushly forested mountains and swamps cover nearly a million hectares, an area the size of Yellowstone National Park in the United States.

During the last 60 years, Sumatra's tropical forests retreated as the human population grew, leaving the park at the core of the largest remaining tract of forest.

VideoGary Strieker takes us on a visit to Gunung Leuser National Park in Northern Sumatra.
Windows Media 28K 80K

The area is both a critical watershed and a refuge for vanishing wildlife such as elephants, orangutans and tigers.

Now, political instability and economic turmoil undermine the park's protection. Many Indonesians demand a bigger share of the nation's wealth, and for some, it seems unfair to keep valuable resources locked up inside a park.

Local wood processing companies pay desperate men without jobs to steal timber from the park. Encroaching farmers clear the forest to plant crops. One piece at a time, the forest disappears.

Saving the Environment

"It's time for civil society to pressure the government, to ask for the government to do something about illegal logging in Indonesia," says environmental activist Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto.

Illeagel Logging
Illegal logging continues in Indonesia's protected forests, despite government promises to stop it.  

But some villagers living on the boundary of the park say they don't see the problem. The forest is still huge, one man says; there's enough for everybody.

The provincial governor has said he'll take strict action to stop the illegal logging. But the park's head warden, Adi Susmianto, says it's just a quick fix.

"The problem is, it stops just for a while. After that, it happens again and happens again," he says.

People in another village near the park are worried. A destroyed forest, they say, will never come back. The villagers say they will find a way to enforce to the law and protect the park themselves, because the government authorities don't seem to care.

A good reason, local conservationists say, is because many officials profit from the illegal logging in the park -- including people in the military, police, local government officials, even park wardens and rangers.

"We can't rely on the police and the military because they are part of the problem," Ruwindrijarto says.

It's a problem that's becoming critical as illegal loggers cut their way into national parks protecting the last of these undisturbed forests.

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