WWF clarifies role in Gunung Leuser National Park in Aceh, Indonesia


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Dear friends,

Agus Purnomo, from WWF Indonesia, has asked me to send out the following note clarifying their role in Gunung Leuser National Park, which I made reference to in my last polex message about ’wild logging’ in Aceh. I do so with pleasure. Polex’s role is to inform, not misrepresent, and the note has a lot of useful information.

Dear David,

Many thanks for sharing the information on John McCarthy’s paper. As usual Polex serves as an excellent source of academic analysis on forestry issues. Indeed, John made good observations about WWF’s past involvements in Gunung Leuser National Park. He also quoted our survey on illegal sawmills in Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park. However, I could not find any sentence in John’s paper that support your statement that: “WWF failed to realize how strong the local logging networks were and could not offer local villagers an alternative that provide more employment or better incomes than logging.”

We never underestimated nor ignored the substantial level of influence of corruption involving almost all stakeholders including the Bupati, military (and police) officers, and some community leaders in many forested areas. The wild or illegal logging practices have been booming because of worsening law enforcement capacity. John McCarthy recognized our effort and acomplishment in getting the buy-in of local communities and their leaders for conservation efforts, through community conservation forests (CCF) and other community development activities. That we lost in the early battles against the networks of power and interest suporting logging has been openly admitted. We engaged those battle with full awareness that we were a small player with no law enforcement mandate to fight (illegal) logging.

To our surprise, at the request of the Leuser Management Unit (LMU), which runs the Leuser Development Programme (LDP), the Governor of Aceh asked us to terminate our efforts in Gunung Leuser NP. Because of the Governor’s letter, as well as the lack of interest from our donors to support a project in Leuser since the European Union was already funding activities there, we ended our conservation activities in Leuser by 1997. WWF and LMU met several times to clarify this incident. Apologies have been exchanged and accepted – the case is closed. When logging activities increased in Leuser because of (among others) economic crisis, WWF has no longer active in Leuser NP.

Your observation of our failure to “generate better incomes [from alternative forestry activities] than from logging” is a reality in the beginning of a long war against illegal logging that unfortunately we could not continue. “Generating better incomes than logging” was not a strategy that WWF employed to combat logging. WWF is not against all types of logging. We support reduced impact logging and other SFM based forest exploitation. But we are against destructive (and illegal) logging practices. Lessons that we learned from a dozen protected areas in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Java, have demonstrated the limitations of community development and income generating activities in combatting illegal logging and wildlife poaching problems, even when it was done in an integrated way like the ICDP in Kerinci Seblat. The commitments from local community that were secured through community development activities often washed away with the increased incidents of legal and illegal logging activities by non-local people. Because of this we are now collaborating with other conservation organizations to strengthen local authority enforcement capabilities in selected protected areas, such as developing anti-poaching patrolling units that comprise of forest rangers and local people. With a combination of effective law enforcement and income generating / community development activities we have achieved better results in reducing destructive (illegal) logging and poaching activities.

Best wishes,

Agus Purnomo (WWF-Indonesia)

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