Myriad factors likely contributed to the disaster, but many familiar with the area blame illegal logging
, an escalating threat at the center of a deforestation crisis that is stripping Sumatra of its rainforests.
For Sumatra’s Mandailing District, the catastrophe was a call to action. With support from CI-Indonesia, the governor and local leaders took advantage of recently created reforms in Indonesia’s
forestry laws to establish the 266,760-acre Batang Gadis National Park. “The floods were the trigger that created the park,” says CI-Indonesia Vice President Jatna Supriatna. “We had been in discussions with the community for several months to protect the area, but when the community saw the carnage, they responded quickly to make the park happen.”
Supriatna says this “bottom up” approach is one of the most exciting aspects of the forestry law changes. Previously, national parks have been established by the national government with scant local input. “The reforms give local people a much greater voice in managing their resources. This provides them a strong sense of ownership in the process and means the park has a better chance of becoming a long-term success.”
Batang Gadis is part of the Sundaland biodiversity hotspot
, a threatened region sheltering extraordinary biological richness and endemism. Biological knowledge of the park is spotty. However, a recent biological survey by CI-Indonesia and its partners documented 190 bird and 35 mammal species
. These included the rare Sumatran tiger
, elusive clouded leopard and Malayan tapir. A larger survey is planned for July.
Initially, CI’s support of the new park will be largely technical. Supriatna explains that many local governments don’t have the information or capacity to make informed decisions when creating and properly managing a protected area. Partnering will give them access to CI’s technical expertise, allowing them to use the best available conservation science. With it, they can develop appropriate boundaries, create a sound management plan and analyze potential economic opportunities
. With a stunning natural setting and a forest
filled with charismatic fauna, CI and community
leaders believe Batang Gadis has great potential for sustainable economic alternatives such as ecotourism
Susie Ellis, CI vice president for Indonesia and the Philippines
, calls the park’s creation significant progress for CI’s Sumatra program. With support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, CI and various local organizations are designing a plan to link existing forest tracts and protected areas into an 11-million-acre conservation corridor in northern Sumatra. She explains, “The park gets us firmly on the ground and accelerates our work toward the greater long-term goal of creating a major biodiversity conservation corridor.”
Ellis adds that the park creation also helps to curb some of the aggressive deforestation, both legal and illegal, taking place in Sumatra. Tempering this sentiment, she warns that an Australian company claims to have rights to a mining concession within the park boundaries. For both the community and CI, a difficult legal battle lies ahead.