Logging concession areas: Good for orangutans and forest conservation, says study

Center for International Forestry Research: Zoe Cormier: 15 January 2013

BOGOR, Indonesia (15 January, 2013) Nearly a third of all orangutans left in the wild can be found within logging concessions in Indonesia, according to a new study by the Center for International Forest Research, which says designation of these areas for conservation could help save the endangered apes from extinction - while at the same time protecting forests.

"In the conservation movement, many are only interested in protected areas, and dismiss the potential of logging concessions outright," says CIFOR researcher David Gaveau, one of the authors of the study mapping the distribution of orangutan populations in Indonesia.

Many of the 50,000 to 60,000 that remain can be found in national parks. But even more live in patches of forest scattered by development.

The greatest number, however, almost a third, can be found in concessions where the selective harvesting of trees for timber is permitted. "We need to consider areas of sustainable logging as one way to protect the forest," Gaveau said.

"People need timber, and if you can produce it and at the same time as protecting wildlife, then we can actually achieve sustainable development."

A number of factors threaten the long-term future of orangutans, found today only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra: The greatest are deforestation for palm oil (Indonesia is the world's top producer, accounting for 44 percent of all global sales), timber, pulp and paper plantations. At the same time, increased contact with humans in agricultural and developed areas frequently results in the animals being hunted.

Indonesia pledged five years ago to stabilize all wild orangutan populations by 2017.

But for that to happen, policy makers need to know what kinds of land use areas, such as protected forests or agricultural regions, they are inhabiting.

Gaveau and co-authors of Understanding the Impacts of Land-Use Policies on a Threatened Species: Is There a Future for the Bornean Orang-utan?, published this month in the journal PLoS One, mapped the distribution of orangutans in Borneo using new datasets that had been gathered using GPS.

People need timber, and if you can produce it and at the same time as protecting wildlife, then we can actually achieve sustainable development.

Surprisingly, they found that while 22 percent of the ape's distribution is found in protected areas, 29 percent - almost a third of all orangutan habitat - is found in timber production areas.

Moreover, a quarter of their habitat is found in areas which are still forested but which are slated for development: 19 percent in undeveloped areas which have been designated for oil palm plantations, and 6 percent in undeveloped tree plantations.

"Logging concessions can do just as well as protected areas in conserving wildlife, provided they stay as logging concessions, and are not changed into zones for agriculture."

At the same time, Gaveau said, "logging concessions are actually a viable option for protecting forests." This is crucial, he says, because governments in Indonesia and other tropical countries tend to reclassify logged areas for use in agriculture or oil palm plantations.

"The government tends to equate 'logged' with 'degraded,' but as our research shows, these areas can still be extremely valuable habitats for orangutans."

"Current policies allow logged forest to be managed for rehabilitation and ecosystem restoration, as well as being converted to plantations. So encouraging rehabilitation and restoration, and discouraging conversion of logged forest to plantations, could play a big role in helping protect orang-utans", Gaveau said.

But if the government continues with the status quo, he added, the future of orangutans looks bleak. Under a business as usual scenario, which would see logged areas converted to plantations and agriculture, 49 percent of the orangutan's current distribution would be lost.

This new publication is part of the CGIAR research program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by ARCUS Foundation.