Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry recently designated Tesso Nilo as a national park. The decree is being welcomed by an alliance of two dozen local groups led by WWF and supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) that worked together for more than 4 years to make the declaration possible.
The July 19 decree followed a public pledge by the Indonesian government earlier this year to create 12 new protected areas in 2004, including Tesso Nilo in Sumatra's Riau Province and Batang Gadis National Park in Northern Sumatra.
In an August 3 press announcement, the head of the government's Forestry Information Center, Transtoto Handadhari, said the decree aims to conserve important forest resources while also increasing the quality of life for people living near the new park.
The new Tesso Nilo National Park covers 38,576 hectares. While it is one of the largest remaining blocks of flat, dry lowland rain forest in Sumatra, more than 300,000 hectares of the Tesso Nilo forest area have been converted to industrial plantations.
"Not long ago the land for this park was slated for logging," said Tom Dillon, director of WWF's Species Conservation Program.
"This announcement ensures that at least some of Sumatra's unmatched biodiversity will be preserved, but we still have a long way to go before this park and those around it are indeed functioning protected areas," he said.
WWF is negotiating with other companies to retire more logging concessions and increase the acreage of this new park, while also working with neighboring communities to create alternative livelihoods for people who might otherwise participate in illegal logging.
"We see this as a positive first step that the government has set for corporations to follow," said Michael Stuewe, president of Conservation Management Ltd., one of the groups working to secure Tesso Nilo's protection. Stuewe and others are hoping corporations will give more hectares over to conservation to achieve protection for the full 188,000 hectares of natural tropical lowland forest that remain in the Tesso Nilo Forest Complex.
The efforts of the two-dozen strong alliance and WWF were key to the declaration. The alliance and its success is tangible evidence of the effectiveness of civil society partnerships working in concert with local governments.
"The declaration of this cornerstone for saving the largest remaining expanse of Sumatra's lowland forest is a great tribute to the alliance of local, national and international NGOs working to make it possible," said Judy Mills, Asia grant director for CEPF.
Securing this forest as a national park is part of the Tesso Nilo-Bukit Tigapuluh focal area of CEPF's investment strategy for Sumatra in the Sundaland biodiversity hotspot. Sumatra's lowland rain forest is almost gone, with only small forest fragments remaining. Mostly oil palm and acacia pulp wood plantations cover the island's lowlands. The largest remaining forest tracts are in Sumatra's central province of Riau where the new park is located.
However, four logging companies operate in the Tesso Nilo Forest Complex, while acacia and palm oil plantations surround it. A 1-kilometer-wide acacia plantation corridor is just being created inside the complex.
Three protected forests are within 25 to 40 kilometers of the complex in the larger Tesso Nilo landscape: the Kurumutan Peat Swamp Reserve, the Bukit Rimbang Baling Montane Forest Game Reserve and the Bukit Tigapuluh Montane Forest National Park.
The complex and Kerinci Seblat may soon be the last retreat for central Sumatra's elephant population. The prime tiger reserves of Bukit Rimbang Baling and Bukit Tigapuluh are still connected to each other and may be the last possible link to the larger Kerinici Seblat ecosystem.
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