Twenty years ago Indonesia planned a national protected area system, with large conservation areas within a variety of biogeographic regions. All forest areas were allocated for production, watersheds, or conservation. Unfortunately, these principles were not incorporated into practice, and Indonesia is well on its way to losing all of its vast rainforests (not many years ago, more than 70% of its land area). The political instability and chaos, as well as extraordinary levels of corruption, have led to an abrogation of any conservation principles

Indonesia for a number of years sought to use the vast land areas of Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) and Sumatra to resettle many people from other islands (“transmigrasi”), and many people were moved there from overcrowded Java and Bali. This was long part of Indonesian government policy to relieve urban and rural population pressures, much to the ecological detriment of the colonized areas. Many of these schemes failed, as in Sumatra, where the converted forest land proved unsuitable for cultivation and unable to sustain families. Many other people have also migrated there on their own and work large areas of land.
As elsewhere, highway construction and urbanization have contributed a great deal to forest removal in Indonesia. Businessmen, government officials, politicians and workers make money from these activities. The interests of the future, the environment and the local small farmers are rarely considered. Deforestation is driven by profit and in some places in the name of socioeconomic equality. Meanwhile, the lowland forests on the island chain may be completely destroyed by 2005. Now, in Borneo, the forests are being heedlessly razed for agriculture and timber. Often forests are simply burned to make way for short-lived agricultural plots, without the extraction of timber first. Because of this senseless activity, the virtually “limitless” forests in Kalimantan will be almost gone by 2010.

During the reign of President Suharto (1966-1998), cronyism and nepotism deposited timber concessions in the hands of the president’s family, friends, military officers, and large business operations. Since then the management of forests (except for national parks and reserves) has been taken over by local entities, which have no ability to plan management policies nor do they have the personnel or funds or will to carry out such plans. The situation has been illustrated by Jepson, et al., (2001) in the huge Kerinci-Semblat National Park in Sumatra, which is surrounded by logging concessions (highly biodiverse areas which were removed from the park under political pressure). The World Bank and other international agencies provided funds for the management of Kerinci-Semblat, which provides habitat for the almost extinct Sumatran rhinoceros, Sumatran tiger, and the Asian elephant. Despite this, illegal logging operations follow logging roads into the forest, much forest land has been cleared and burned for agriculture, and there are many sawmills operating within the parks. There is almost no security, and the illegal logging gangs terrorize or bribe the legal concessionaires and the district forest officials into ignoring their activities. Officials in the local government are either in collusion with the illegal operators or face violence if they try to prohibit their activities. In another park, Gunung Leuser, logging gangs have negotiated “concessions” which intrude within the park boundaries. These gangs are supported by groups from the army and from rebel groups which are supported with foreign monies. Communities concur with these illegal activities because they are afraid of the gangs and also because they receive huge amounts of cash from allowing or “selling” logging concessions (which they have no legal right to issue). These illegal operations appear to be backed by important individuals, in one case (at least), a member of the national People’s Assembly. Few consider the disastrous effects of the rapid deforestation which is ensuing. Kerinci’s rich lowland forest will be gone in three years and this destruction will result in an increased risk of fires (as occurred during the severe El Niño event of 1998-1999), land degradation, loss of watersheds (which leads to flooding with concomitant loss of crops, houses and roads), and other effects which are discussed under the deforestation section, above.

Among the many endangered species in Indonesia is the silvery gibbon, which now has a population size of 400 to 2,000. This small primate is hanging on in the fragments of rainforest left on Java, its only home, and one of the most densely populated regions on earth. They are found in small parks, some with no more than ten animals, population sizes which are untenable, and too genetically isolated to survive unaided. These gibbons are collected for pets and perhaps hunted as well (Derr, 2002). Orangutans, which are perhaps the best-known Asian primates, are in serious trouble as well, as their habitat is reduced and the adults are killed for food, or to obtain the babies for pets. We could continue the list (Sumatran tigers and the Javan rhinoceros, to mention only the largest mammals), but it would be virtually endless.

And the list of threatened forests goes on and on -The Philippines, many areas in the Amazon, the Tai forest of Ivory Coast, forests in East Africa, the Pacific islands, northern Australia. As Whitmore (1998) asserted, “…economists eager to enrich a nation, apply their dismal pseudoscience to override basic biological principles and dictate the removal of a larger harvest than the forest can sustain without degradation.