For several days now, we have been making flights over the forests of Papua in our helicopter. Here are the highlights – good and bad – of what we have seen so far.
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
Today we are flying using our Greenpeace helicopter to cover one of the biggest palm oil operations in Papua. We are supposed to be flying with some VIPs – the head of parliament’s Member of Papua Province and the head of forestry planning office of Papua – but at the last minute they were not available. A journalist from the major news paper in Indonesia, Media Indonesia, did fly with us, and they will publish a big story.
Our flight today covers the palm oil plantation in Lereh, near Jayapura, owned by Sinar Mas Group. Sinar Mas is the one of the biggest palm oil companies in Indonesia where they already have more than one million hectares in concessions. In Papua, Sinar Mas is planning to develop almost two million hectares palm oil plantation plan and most of this area is still intact forest.
What we see is a surprise because we found new areas of Lereh being cleared. Three months ago we flew over the same area and found a very small operation clearing the forest. Today, we found at least seven pieces of heavy machinery actively clearing in the middle of forest with lot of sago tress (the Papuan local food) in the same area; we also found some areas that had just been burnt. Burning the forest is the one of simple way of clearing the forest but it also releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
We still have many more flights during the transit to Manokwari when we expect to see more logging activity in Papua forest.
Thursday, October 9 2008
Our first flight was at 9am, flying around the logging area operated by PT Bina Balantak Utama (BBU) around Sarmi, around 150 miles from Jayapura, where we found some heavy machinery cutting down the forest. This company is operating legally but we don’t know about the details of their operations inside the forest. There are lots of old logging roads in this area but the ecosystem has already recovered smoothly. Two years ago we flew over this area and found a massive logging operation logging but now it seems like the operation is slowing down, probably because of the log export ban by the governor of Papua.
During the second flight, we covered an area with good, pristine forest. We flew with two Papuan journalists who are travelling with the Esperanza. The area we saw is already given to a palm oil company which is part of the Asian Agri Group. The forest is still intact and from the helicopter we can see it’s an area with high conservation value. It really should be protected and it’s a big challenge for us to make sure that it is.
Friday, 10 October 2008
Mamberamo is the biggest river in Papua, and nearby we can see the Mamberamo Foja hills where in 2005, a team sponsored by Conservation International found several new species of animals and plants. Some small villages could be seen from the air – there are not so many people living in the forest, but even so every part of the forest is owned by someone in the indigenous community.
Almost all of the Mamberamo area is covered by pristine forest. There was some logging around five years ago, which we can see from an old logging road – the Papuan forest can naturally recover very quickly. In areas like that where there has been some logging, the government claims that, as it has been ‘degraded’, it can be converted to use for other purposes, but there is the possibility to restore that area to be good forest again.
There is only one logging operation in that area, owned by Wapoga Mutiara Timber, and we saw plenty of logs ready to be transported elsewhere, and logging roads are also spreading.
Saturday, 11 October 2008
The morning flight started at 7am, with Ardlies the photographer and Hernan the videographer on board to cover the Waropen area, where at least three logging companies have permits to operate. All of that area is still intact forest and there has probably been some logging in the past but it has already recovered, so there is not so much we can see in that area. But there is work being carried out on a new road as a part of the Trans Papua Highway.
The afternoon flight covered Yapen Island where the Papua provincial government is planning to have a pilot project on forest management and also related with carbon money. Again, most of the area is still intact forest – there is logging company present but it’s not active anymore, and also we found a timber mill owned by Korean company which is still in operation but at the moment only on a very small scale operation.
The amount of intact forest we have seen is very encouraging, but we need to make sure it remains that way and is protected. Sadly, we expect to see more areas of clearance during the coming week.
posted by Bustar, campaigner, on board the Esperanza