In January 2013, chairman of the Aceh parliament’s spatial planning committee, told Australian journalist Michael Bachelard that a proposed new spatial plan for Aceh would reduce the total forest cover in the province from about 68% to 45%. And this week Greenomics Indonesia published a report criticising the Governor of Aceh’s plans to allow logging in 54,593 hectares of protected forest.

In 2007, then-governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf, banned commercial logging in Aceh. He also helped establish the Ulu Masen REDD project, together with Fauna and Flora International and Carbon Conservation. Last year, Irwandi lost the elections in Aceh and with a new governor, Zaini Abdullah, the forests are once again under threat. The head of forest landscape in Aceh’s Department of Forestry, Saminuddin B. Tou, told Bachelard that, “The nature of the logging moratorium is that it’s temporary so it can be revoked any time.” He added, “I think it is time for logging concessions to be reactivated.”

The Leuser Ecosystem covers an area of 2.6 million hectares and is a crucially important area of forest, home to the largest remaining populations of the Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Elephant, Sumatran Rhino and the Sumatran Orangutan. Bachelard reports that since Zaini was elected, the Leuser Ecosystem Management Authority has been brought under Aceh’s pro-development Department of Forestry, leaving staff uncertain about their future.

Conservationist Mike Griffiths used to be a coordinator with the with the Leuser Ecosystem Management Authority. Griffiths told Bachelard, that most of Indonesia’s forest is gone, except in Aceh and Papua. In Aceh, he said,

“they are planning, sooner or later, to knock down a quarter of their forests, most of them in the lowland areas. If this happens, we’ll see the extinction of all the charismatic species in 10 to 20 years. The rhinos will be heading towards extinction in six months, the elephants will last perhaps 15 years, the tigers maybe 20. The orang-utans will go quite quickly because they live in the lowlands.”

The Ulu Masen REDD project is at a complete standstill. In 2011, Carbon Conservation sold 50% of its shares to a Canadian mining company, East Asia Minerals. The Government of Aceh considered this to be unacceptable and since then Ulu Masen has been stalled. Fauna and Flora International has distanced itself from Carbon Conservation and the Ulu Masen REDD project.

The new Aceh Governor, Zaini, has said that “everything to do with Ulu Masen was now under review”.

On 30 October 2012, the Aceh Governor wrote to the Minister of Forestry in Jakarta proposing the conversion of protected forest into logging concessions. Greenomics Indonesia got hold of a copy of the letter and in a new report describes the Governor’s proposal in detail. Greenomics Indonesia’s report, “Aceh Governor’s move threatens destruction of province’s protection forest”, can be downloaded here (pdf file, 1.3 MB),

In the letter, the Governor proposes clearing five blocks of forest covering a total area of 21,311 hectares for timber. An additional three blocks of protected forest covering 33,282 hectares are proposed to be converted to production forest. In Greenomics Indonesia’s report, satellite images of each of the blocks reveal good forest cover. “[T]he proposed conversion of protection forest to production forest is motivated by the fact that the land in question is still forested,” Greenomics points out.

On 26 December 2012, in a speech marking the 8th anniversary of the tsunami, Governor Zaini said that “Greediness of humans destroys forests… so it destroys the balance of nature.” Elfian Effendi, Executive Director of Greenomics Indonesia was in Aceh in December, and heard the Governor’s speech. “I was very impressed by what he had to say about protecting … the province’s forests,” he said.

However, after seeing the proposals sent by the Governor of Aceh, I have no option [than] to conclude that what the Governor said was nothing more than empty rhetoric, rather than a commitment to protecting Aceh’s forests. If the Governor is sincere about protecting the province’s forests, then he will withdraw his destructive proposals immediately.

In December 2012, REDD-Monitor visited Aceh on a research project with Down to Earth and Jaringan Komunitas Masyarakat Adat Aceh (Network of Indigenous Communities in Aceh – JKMA) to find out more about the current status of the Ulu Masen project. We conducted a series of interviews with villagers, mukim, NGO representatives and government officials. The results of the trip will be posted in a series over the next few weeks on REDD-Monitor.