Parks “on paper”: Establishing Special Use Zones in Indonesia’s national parks

Many rural Indonesian communities depend on forests for their livelihoods. Photo by CIFOR/Manuel Boissiere.

BOGOR, Indonesia (26 August, 2011)_The severe restrictions on human activity in protected forest areas in Indonesia is threatening the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities and leading to a “conservation deadlock”, with protected forests being invaded and destroyed by those that claim rights to the area.

In response, the Ministry of Forestry is considering designating ‘special use’ zones to encourage these communities to establish agreements to manage parks collaboratively, reports a new study.

“Based on our discussions with park managers and local communities, the deadlock is happening because zoning has been too rigid, there are too many different zones, the criteria for zones is unclear and open to interpretation, and the current decree only accommodates the community present before the park was designated, while in reality many communities have relationships and rights to the park area,” said Moira Moeliono, lead author of the study and scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

However, with at least seven levels of national park zoning permissible in currently ownership regulations, each defining different mixes of conservation and use, the implementation of “special use zones” will require extensive consultation with park staff and local people to ensure disputes over land ownership, use and management are kept to a minimum.

“Having seven zones is too complex; the system should be simplified. Two zones, one reserved strictly for biodiversity conservation and one for special use, would be a better way of balancing the needs of local people and conservation for the public interest”.

Indonesia has 534 protected areas, including 50 national parks, covering some 28 million hectares (approximately 15% of Indonesia’s total land area). But many of these protected areas are parks ‘on paper’, decreed as such by the government without official gazetting or policing, without consulting locals, and without recognising any previous rights to the areas.

Because conservation policy in Indonesia is largely about excluding people and human activity from protected areas, disputes over rights to use, control or even own land in protected areas has become commonplace. Special use zones aim to conserve the park’s resources and provide development opportunities for local people however, this is largely dependent on the involvement and commitment of local communities in the developmental process.

“Currently the definition of a special use zone is more ‘one size fits all’. That just doesn’t reflect the uniqueness of each national park in Indonesia. We think the term ‘special use zone’ should be flexible enough to allow tailoring for each national park. That way the criteria can be adjusted to local needs and conditions,” said Moeliono.

The current study aims to bring the voices of park staff and local people to policy-level discussions to facilitate the establishment of simplified special zones in Indonesia’s national parks.

“Because the special use zone is still within the park, it would be subject to the rules that govern park management. It would still focus on conserving biodiversity, but would allow for environmentally friendly and sustainable economic development that does not compromise the park’s conservation goals. More specific, localised rules could be incorporated as agreed by all involved”.

Special use zones, established through agreement and managed collaboratively, may just achieve the ultimate goal of a balance between local development and conserving forests for current and future generations, concludes the study.

“The idea of a special use zone could help solve conflicts between people and parks, if it is used not just as a designation of an area, but as an agreement of location, area, rights, duties and responsibilities of all involved. More than that, the special use zone should be able to adapt to suit local conditions, and to take in ideas from lessons learned over time,” reflects Moeliono.