Lowland Forest Loss in Protected Areas of Indonesian Borneo

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Science  13 Feb 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5660, pp. 1000-1003
DOI: 10.1126/science.1091714


The ecology of Bornean rainforests is driven by El Niño–induced droughts that trigger synchronous fruiting among trees and bursts of faunal reproduction that sustain vertebrate populations. However, many of these species- and carbon-rich ecosystems have been destroyed by logging and conversion, which increasingly threaten protected areas. Our satellite, Geographic Information System, and field-based analyses show that from 1985 to 2001, Kalimantan's protected lowland forests declined by more than 56% (>29,000 square kilometers). Even uninhabited frontier parks are logged to supply international markets. “Protected” forests have become increasingly isolated and deforested and their buffer zones degraded. Preserving the ecological integrity of Kalimantan's rainforests requires immediate transnational management.

Conversion, degradation, and fragmentation threaten the integrity of forested ecosystems worldwide (13). In Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan), concession-based timber extraction, plantation establishment, and weak institutions have resulted in highly fragmented and degraded forests (4, 5). In such dynamic tropical rainforest frontiers with high biodiversity (6), investigations are required at local to regional scales to understand how changes in land use and land cover alter ecological interactions (7, 8).

Kalimantan's rainforests are driven by El Niño Southern Oscillation events, which trigger synchronous fruiting among the regionally dominant timber trees, the Dipterocarpaceae, and bursts of faunal reproduction (810). Dipterocarp reproductive cycles are linked to rural livelihoods; communities both trade dipterocarp seeds and hunt wild game (primarily bearded pigs) that eat dipterocarp fruit (810). However, forest fragmentation and land cover change have transformed El Niño from a regenerative to a highly destructive phenomenon, one that triggers droughts and wildfires with increasing frequency and intensity, disrupts dipterocarp fruiting, interrupts wildlife reproductive cycles, and erodes the basis for rural livelihoods (8, 11).

Protected areas [PAs, including IUCN (World Conservation Union) Categories I to VI] of sufficient extent and connectivity are required to sustain ecological integrity. Although 64% of Kalimantan's land area (>344,000 km2) was allocated to industrial federal forest uses from 1967 to 1972, PAs were delineated or redrawn in 1984 and 1985 to maintain representative ecosystems and to be managed by the government (12). Since then, however, PAs have experienced concomitant threats from logging, wildfires, and conversion. Conserving Kalimantan's PAs requires current information on their condition and the nature of the threats they face.

Within PAs, we mapped lowland deforestation and measured deforestation rates within a nested design. We assessed Gunung Palung National Park (GPNP) in West Kalimantan and its 10-km buffer zone (2736 km2 spatial extent) from 1988 to 2002, the West Kalimantan province (146,092 km2) in 2001, and Kalimantan as a whole (537,040 km2) in 2001 (Fig. 1) (13). We determined the distribution and condition of remaining lowlands [<500 m above sea level (a.s.l.) rather than <1000 m], because such forests contain distinctive dipterocarp habitats, the majority of vertebrates, the greatest canopy tree diversity, and the majority of land used by humans. Major drivers of deforestation were identified from West Kalimantan field studies (13) and contrasted with those reported for PAs elsewhere.

Fig. 1.

Our case study area, GPNP and its surrounding 10-km buffer (black), is located on the southwest coast of the island of Borneo, in the province of West Kalimantan (light gray). Other areas of Borneo, surrounding Indonesian islands, and East Timor are depicted in dark gray.

GPNP was selected for our detailed case study because of its biological importance (12) and our field-based research within GPNP and surrounds from 1985 to 2003. Because West Kalimantan contains the largest PA network of lowland dipterocarp forest in Kalimantan, this province served as our focal region. For the GPNP time-series and West Kalimantan analyses, we mapped forest and nonforest using 30-m spatial resolution satellite images. The Kalimantan-wide analysis used satellite images at a coarser spatial resolution (250 m). Images were classified into forest or nonforest classes with supervised classification and visual interpretation; results were validated with field and aerial surveys (from 1999 to 2003) and with reference satellite images with fine spatial resolution (1 m and 4 m) (13).

Our 14-year GPNP time-series analysis (Fig. 2) documents expansive and accelerating deforestation. Within the park's 10-km-wide buffer strip surrounding the outer perimeter of the reserve, >70% of lowlands were deforested (46 km2 year–1) from 1988 to 2002, leaving <9% of the buffer in lowland forest. From 1988 to 2002, 38% of GPNP's lowlands were deforested (19 km2 year–1). Because of the high density and volume (50 to 120 m3 ha–1) of commercial timber (>90% of which is dipterocarps) in Kalimantan, intensively logged forests typically have ≥80% of the canopy basal area removed or destroyed (8). Deforestation within GPNP's buffer resulted primarily from intensive logging by timber concessions, followed by the clear cutting of residual stands by oil palm plantations [concessions and plantations comprise >70% of the buffer zone (Fig. 2D)]. After 1999, when <26% of the buffer remained forested, a rapid acceleration of deforestation (9.5% year–1) occurred within GPNP (Fig. 3).

Fig. 2.

Cumulative forest loss within the GPNP boundary (yellow) and its surrounding 10-km buffer. Forest and nonforest classifications (13) are based on a Landsat Thematic Mapper time series (1988, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2002). Classifications are shown for (A) 1988, (B) 1994, and (C) 2002. (The full time series is given in fig. S1.) Lowland (green) and peat (olive) forests were converted to nonforest (red), first predominantly in the buffer and later within the park. Gray areas are montane forest (66 km2 more than 500 m a.s.l.) and were excluded from analyses. The well-defined nonforest area that appears northeast of GPNP in (B) has been clear-felled for an oil palm plantation. (D) Industrial land uses—areas formerly allocated to timber concessions (green) and current plantation allocations (dotted red)—account for most of the deforestation within the buffer. The coastal road, paved in 1998, is shown in black (62 km); unpaved primary logging transport roads are shown in purple (96 km). The GPNP area is shown in tan.

Fig. 3.

Annual rates of forest cover change in the buffer zone and within GPNP from 1988 to 2002, from a 1988 baseline. During this period, a total of 628 km2 of lowland dipterocarp forest within the park buffer and 257 km2 within the park were lost, primarily through logging and conversion to plantations. After 1999, when ∼75% of the buffer had been deforested, the rate of deforestation within the park increased to 9.5% year–1.

Lowland PAs such as GPNP are critical to maintaining Borneo's biodiversity. More than 420 resident bird and 222 mammal species occur on Borneo; 61% of these birds and 52 to 81% of the mammals are confined to lowland forests, including >50% of the endemic avian and >35% of the endemic mammalian species (12, 14). GPNP harbors 178 or >70% of Bornean bird species (15) and >72 mammal species that depend on lowlands (16). Logging within GPNP's lowlands will adversely affect biodiversity; in addition to felling dipterocarp trees, logging removes the associated, asynchronously fruiting, hemiepiphytic figs (Ficus spp.) that serve as keystone resources for local vertebrates (17). In this region, at least 91 to 132 avian species (33 to 50% of the avifauna) respond negatively to lowland forest fragmentation and/or logging (14). Although mammalian response to such conditions varies by species and guilds, lowland-dependent species occur at much reduced densities in logged forests. For example, GPNP, with ∼17% of Borneo's population of endangered orangutans, experienced a 21 to 33% reduction in orangutan densities in logged areas compared with unlogged areas (18).

Given the deforestation observed at our case study site, analyses were extended to evaluate all lowland PAs across West Kalimantan. In 1985, 76% (∼29,000 km2) of West Kalimantan PAs (38,500 km2 spatial extent) contained well-drained lowland dipterocarp forest (fig. S2A). Nonlowland PAs were remote montane or swamp forests with relatively low economic value for timber. Our combined Geographic Information System and remote sensing analyses indicate that from 1985 to 2001, West Kalimantan's lowland PAs were reduced by 63% (∼18,500 km2), primarily by intensive logging. By 2001, only ∼10,900 km2 remained of protected lowland forest fragments larger than 10 km2 (fig. S2B). Of the 64 remaining fragments, 36 were <50 km2 (mean 20.0 km2 ± 1.6 SE). Only 16 fragments (9385 km2 total) are considered large enough (≥100 km2) to support intact vertebrate fauna (12, 14, 19). The remote Betung Kerihun National Park (BKNP) (gazetted 1996) contains ∼50% of the remaining protected lowlands in the province. Moreover, several potentially viable fragments are isolated (>50 km apart) (fig. S2B). Our Landsat Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) analysis of 10-km buffers around West Kalimantan's World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) PAs (>100 km2 total extent) reveals substantial deforestation; seven of eight buffers contained 0.5 to 31% lowland forest (mean 18.5% ± 5.3% SE). Although 45.6% of BKNP's buffer contains lowland forest, both this park and its buffer are currently being logged (20).

Across Kalimantan's other provinces (∼387,000 km2), we evaluated the condition of WCMC lowland PAs. Within ∼23,100 km2 of lowland PAs outside West Kalimantan (41% of the total protected area), only 33 fragments (≥100 km2) remain forested (a loss of ∼11,100 km2, or 48% of the lowland forest cover) (fig. S3). Although 12 fragments contain sufficient area to support most vertebrates, 10 of these are isolates. Moreover, 69% of these “protected” forests (∼8200 km2) overlap industrial timber concessions or plantations (fig. S3).

Given this extensive reduction in Kalimantan's protected lowland forest, widespread effects are expected to cascade throughout their ecosystems. Because mast-fruiting dipterocarp communities satiate seed predators by employing a strategy of regional reproductive synchrony, the observed fragmentation is likely to trigger direct and indirect effects, including those demonstrated in frugivore-food web dynamics (810). Except for BKNP, large, intact protected lowlands no longer exist in Kalimantan (fig. S3). Therefore, threatened nomadic and large vertebrates with extensive lowland ranges are predicted to decline precipitously, especially carnivores, ungulates, and primates (e.g., the Malayan sun bear, Helarctos malayanus; the bearded pig, Sus barbatus; and the orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus). Preliminary evidence for such declines includes emaciated dead sun bears and bearded pigs radiotracked and observed in northeast Borneo and West and Central Kalimantan in 2000 and 2001 (21). Given local vertebrate extinctions after deforestation in Singapore (22), these Kalimantan results appear foreboding.

Kalimantan's PA forest loss provides a marked contrast to findings from Costa Rica (23), where negligible deforestation occurred within PAs from 1986 to 1997, and from the Brazilian Amazon, where PAs and especially extractive and indigenous reserves substantially inhibited forest cover loss (24, 25). Moreover, interview-based assessments of 93 PAs worldwide (26) suggest that >83% of sites surveyed are maintaining or increasing their forest cover. Our contrasting figures of PA forest loss appear to be explained by distinctive drivers of deforestation occurring in Kalimantan.

Deforestation in Kalimantan's PAs is not primarily due to local human population density, smallholder agricultural clearing, or paved roads. Kalimantan has relatively low human population density and growth rates (1.9% annually for West Kalimantan between 1985 and 2000) with >40% of the total population in coastal cities (12, 13). Moreover, inland rural populations live primarily in small villages (<5 adults per km2) outside of PAs, where they historically engaged in smallholder agroforestry 0.01- to 0.015-km2 parcels cleared per household, mostly from secondary forest, with 10- to 30-year agricultural fallows) and temporary off-farm labor (27). Neither can Kalimantan's deforestation be explained as a direct consequence of paved road construction or spontaneous interior migration as documented in the Amazon basin (28). In West Kalimantan in 2000, the extent of paved roads remained small (0.015 km/km2) and primarily connected coastal ports; only 0.003 km/km2 has been added since 1985.

Borneo is distinctive because of the dominance of the federal timber industry and the commercial value and stock of dipterocarp forests. Over the past two decades, the volume of dipterocarp timber exports (in cubic meters) from Borneo (Kalimantan, Sarawak, and Sabah) exceeded all tropical wood exports from tropical Africa and Latin America combined (29). Logging within PAs results from 20 to 30 years of forest overexploitation, evidenced by the recent and rapid decline in federal timber concessions (4, 5). In West Kalimantan, only 6 of the original 72 concessions (formerly 79,000 km2) allocated in the 1970s have an active harvest in 2003 and 2004. This represents a >94% reduction in logging operations' land area (now 4163 km2). Within these active holdings, primary forest remains on ∼15% (∼600 km2), distributed within a logged mosaic. Most concessions, having been depleted of their harvestable timber, are abandoned. In 2000, the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry reported that abandoned or expired timber concessions across Kalimantan contained <7 to 9% primary forest. Because timber was depleted within concessions, loggers illegally expanded their operations into PAs to maintain supplies for wood-based industries. More than 78% of the 18 concession operations we surveyed from 1999 to 2001 either directly harvested or received timber from PAs. At least 86 to 93% of these operations were processing this wood for international markets (20). Logging within PAs is further confirmed by our Landsat ETM+ analysis, which revealed concession-style logging active in all 10 WCMC PAs examined (>100 km2) (table S1). Within these PAs, the length of industrial logging roads ranges from <1 km (BKNP) to 534 km (Bukit Raya) (x = 175.4 ± 53.0 SE).

Logging within PAs is expected to increase for two main reasons. First, decentralization regulations implemented in 2001 now allow local districts to issue small logging parcel leases (1 km2); this has resulted in the virtually uncontrolled harvest of remaining accessible lowland. For example, based on 6 months of field surveys in West Kalimantan's six timber producing districts, we determined that small parcels were granted locally to permit logging of >1750 km2 of predominately protected lowlands or expired concessions during January to June 2001. Timber volume extracted from district-issued parcels increased by 650% from 2000. Second, widespread oil palm plantation establishment is converting logged lowland forest outside PAs, thus increasing pressure on PAs. From 1997 to 2002, the central government reclaimed several former West Kalimantan timber concessions (>20,000 km2) and funded the clearance of residual wood, purportedly to establish oil palm plantations. Plantation establishment is promoted by state policies (e.g., interest-free loans from the national reforestation fund), often with encouragement (such as loans, loan guarantees, and export finance schemes) from international institutions. These incentives fueled a rapid expansion and conversion of lowlands to oil palm. In 2002, the area allotted to industrial plantations in West Kalimantan totaled ∼35,000 km2, with >31,000 km2 slated for oil palm production, a 40-fold increase in the plantation area designated since 1992 (900 km2). These areas are cleared of residual wood and burned to establish plantations.

Despite the declining resource base, Indonesia's wood-based industries have maintained excessive production capacity (4, 5). For example, in West Kalimantan, 130 such industries had a total capacity of 5 × 106 m3 year–1 in 2002 (20). Fourteen plywood industries alone (2.6 × 106 m3 year–1) exceeded provincial wood volume production capacity from federal timber concessions by 22% in 1994 and 1995, 132% in 1999 and 2000, and 162% in 2002 and 2003. Wood shortages are now met primarily through clearing for plantations and logging PAs. More than 52% of West Kalimantan's oil palm plantations were formerly timber concessions and clearing of their residual forest stands is either planned or completed (in the GPNP 10-km buffer, for instance). Most high-quality timber is now found in PAs; however, it is not protected in practice.

Rates and extent of lowland PA forest loss in Kalimantan far exceed previous projections (30). Stemming the flow of illegal wood from Borneo requires international efforts to document a legitimate chain-of-custody from the forest stand to consumers through independent monitoring. Indonesia's wood-based industries must demonstrate sufficient timber concession stock or reduce capacity. Timber and plantation operations must be closely monitored (with annual satellite-based assessments) with strictly enforced penalties to prevent further incursions into the PAs.

Failure to institute transparent and equitable land use solutions will lead to the irreversible ecological degradation of Borneo's terrestrial ecosystems. Effective frontier governance (6) and sound regional land-use planning are critical to protecting even uninhabited and remote PAs from regional, and increasingly international, market forces.

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Table S1

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