Habitat of Endemic Papuan Birds in Nimbokrang threatened by Oil Palm Expansion.

  • Jalan Korea, a birdwatching site in Jayapura Regency where endemic Papuan birds can be seen, is under threat. The area is part of a palm oil concession, which means the tree cover will be lost and wildlife, including birds, will disappear.
  • Jalan Korea has been a tourist destination for birdwatchers from around the world for the last 27 years.
  • Alex Waisimon, who runs a birdwatching ecotourism business, believes that if palm oil moves into the area, it will mean a repeat of the negative experiences seen elsewhere in Papua, where Papuans who depended on the forest are pushed out from their own lands.
  • Emmy Mandosir, head of the Papua province Environment Agency, will co-ordinate with the Jayapura Regency Environment Service to discuss the issue. If the area is indeed a site for watching endemic birds, it may still be possible to reevaluate the permits and exclude the area.

We went to the site that PT Permata Nusa Mandiri had been clearing land on Wednesday 5th June 2019. A few hundred metres before the company’s camp, our vehicle pulled over. On our left hand side, behind a thin strip of remaining forest, we could see a broad expanse of empty ground. The forest had recently been felled to plant oil palm.

Following a footpath, we waked onto the site. The trees which had been felled had already been removed, so only a few branches remained on the ground alongside the tracks of heavy machinery.

Alex Waisimon tried to see to the far side of the cleared area with his binoculars, which he normally uses for watching birds. He has been actively trying to protect the forest, conserve birds of paradise and other wild animals and trying to improve local people’s economic situation through bird watching ecotourism activities. He has received multiple awards including being named an ASEAN Biodiversity Hero by the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity (ACB), and previously in 2017 he received the Kalpataru and Kick Andy Heroes awards.

That day, although he did not speak much, Alex seemed upset. If this land is cleared for oil palm it will threaten endemic bird species in the area. One birdwatching site which has been a destination for bird-lovers from around the world for the past 27 years, lies within the company’s concession. This spot is known as Jalan Korea, or Korea Road.

The reason behind the name is that it was an old logging road built by a Korean company. Jamil, a tourist guide from Nimbokrang, was the first to introduce this site to others.

Trees can still be seen standing upright around Jalan Korea, but these are actually only the trees the the illegal loggers who have targetted the area have not felled. Evidence of ongoing illegal logging can even still be seen along the roadside.

Several endemic Papuan bird species can be found in this area. The birdwatching website burung-nusantara.org notes that amongst the species can be seen are the northern cassowary, victoria crowned pigeon, twelve-wired bird of paradise and the pale-billed sicklebill. It’s a favorite spot for bird-lovers which has been reviewed on many travel and birdwatching websites.

On maps showing PT PNM’s permits, Jalan Korea can be seen to be within the concession. It is not far from the area recently cleared.

Alex is frustrated at the government for letting this area become an oil palm plantation, because developing the potential of areas which are already well-known is much easier and more cost-effective than pioneering new tourist destinations as the Jayapura Regency administration keeps choosing to do.

What’s more, the reality is that oil palm plantations have never brought improvements to the welfare of the indigenous peoples who own customary land rights in the areas they operate. As far as Alex is concerned, the arrival of palm oil in the area will only lead to a repeat of the negative experiences from many other areas of Papua, where Papuans who used to depend on the forest are pushed out of their own forest.

There’s not much that Alex can do. The Jalan Korea area is not part of his own ancestral land. The word has gone around that the indigenous people who hold land rights in this area have accepted compensation money from the company.

Apart from the Jalan Korea site, other birdwatching spots in the area are under threat. If the company clears land for a 32,000 hectare palm oil plantation it will drastically alter the ecosystem in the entire area. Another site, known as KM 8, for example, does not lie within the concession, but will be just beyond the boundary of the plantation.

Not all the indigenous clans in the area have surrendered their lands to the company. Alex is determined that the company will not be able to work in his area, even if it only wanted to build a road. In 2016, the Waisimon tribe handed an area of 19000 ha over to him to be managed as a conservation area. Within their lands there are also many birdwatching sites, which have become known as Isio Hill Bird Watching.

“As for the Waisimon clan, we’re still holding on. Other groups may be happy that palm oil has arrived here. Not us. Because this spot is already well-known, we just have to keep going with it. The government needs to pay attention to this.

Alex hopes that the government will get involved to save the Jalan Korea site and nearby areas.

PT PNM was given a location permit by the Bupati of Jayapura regency in 2011 (number 213/2011), and an environment permit on 20th February 2014, again by the Bupati (number 62/2014). The land was released from the forest estate by Forestry Ministry decree SK680/Menhut-II/2014.

The company’s 32000 hectare permit traverses Unurumguay, Namblong, Nimboran, Nimbokrang, Kemtuk and Kemtuk Gresi sub-districts. It also plans to build a palm oil mill on the coast at Demta.

In PT PNM’s Environmental Impact Assessment, the only area identified to be set aside for conservation are riverbanks, an area of 2671 hectares. It doesn’t mention that the area is the habitat for a range of endemic Papuan birds which must be protected.

The name of the Waisimon clan doesn’t appear in the list of identified clans which hold customary rights, which includes the Ters, Jek, Meigar, Yanbe, Sobor, Sasbe, Gorto, Sawa, Goakan, Yandu, Tecuari, Bano, Kasmando, Joshua, Kasse, Bue, Yewi, Hawasse, Bally, Sem, Swally, Sanggrawai, and Sanggrabano clans.

Agus Sawa, speaking on behalf of one clan whose land is part of PT PNM’s concession claims that he has not signed any documents to surrender their land. However, he and 13 other clans have received 4 billion Rupiah for 10,000 hectares of land.

Matias Sanggra, head of the Orya customary council in Unurumguay sub-district said he knew little about the surrender of customary lands. “The tribal customary council is not aware of this company. Usually companies seek out people who don’t know anything. Until very recently we had no information at all, even though I represent the tribal council at the sub-district level. Its only when there’s a problem that they (the indigenous people) will come running to us. The company’s people are pretty smart.”

He knows that people currently involved in PT PNM’s management used to work for PT Rimba Matoa Lestari (PT RML) previously, which is located nearby. PT RML itself is currently invovled in a dispute with local indigenous rights holders.

How has the government responded?

Although well-known by birdwatchers globally, the Jayapura Regency Tourism agency was unaware of the Jalan Korea site. I met with Alfius Youwe, the head of the tourism promotion division of Jayapura Tourism Agency on the sidelines of an event in Sentani on 26th June 2019. Alfius said, the three birdwatching spots on the agency’s list were Putali village in Ebungfau sub-district, Rhepang Muaif in Nimbokrang sub-district and Amai in Depapre sub-district. Of these, the best known was Rhepang Muaif, he said.

The spot he was referring to in Rhepang Muaif is Isio Hill Birdwatching, which is managed by Alex Waisimon. He hadn’t heard of other birdwatching locations such as KM 8 or Jalan Korea beforehand.

Markus Budiadi, the head of the EIA division of the Jayapura Regency Environment Agency said that no information was received from local people about birdwatching areas when the EIA documents were being compiled.

“At the time of putting the document together there was no information from the community. We informed them of the plans of course. Before an EIA process we organised presentations in the area”

Review and remove from the concession.

Emmy Mandosir, the head of the Papua Province Environment Agency said she would coordinate with the Jayapura Regency Environment Service about the issue. Interviewed at her office on 25th June 2019, Emmy said that the EIA for this company had been processed by the Jayapura Regency EIA evaluation commssion, under the supervision of the Papua Province Environment Agency.

“There’s nothing which can’t be sorted out. If it is really within the permit area, of course we have to reevaluate that. If it is in the permit area we need to revise the document and remove it.”

Emmy promised to check on the ground to see for herself the condition of the birdwatching site, and would co-ordinate with the company.

When asked for confirmation of the problem, PT PNM’s public relations staff Ridwan Syarif Abbas said he was not able to give a response and recommended approaching the Forestry Service directly.

A local regulation to manage customary forest.

Permits for oil palm plantations and illegal logging are rampant in Jayapura Regency, which has been a worry to many people for some time. Alex was already anticipating this problem when he started Isio Hill’s Birdwatching in 2015. Many different bodies have supported him in his fight to seek legal protection for this area.

In 2018, the Bupati of Jayapura Regency Matius Awaitouw, finally issued a decree with reference 188.4/150/2018. This decree established Isio Hill Rhepang Muaif as the customary forest of the Yawadatum people in the Grime valley, Nimbokrang sub-district – an area of 19,000 hectares.

On the map of state forest zones, as delineated by ministerial decree SK 782/Menhut-II/2012, this area consists of ‘production forest which may be converted’ and ‘other use areas’ [the latter meaning it is outside the state forest estate and therefore available for development]. With the signing of the Jayapura Bupati’s decree, he hopes that the area will now not be assigned for other uses but instead protected as an area for birdwatching-based eco-tourism and other uses which provide a direct benefit to the community.

At the moment, Isio Hills Birdwatching continues to grow. There’s accommodation on site, with 18 bedrooms ready for guests. There is also a hall where different groups such as researchers, students and the local community can engage in activities. A nature school is still being built. From July to November, the area accepts visits from bird lovers. At present, around three hundred people a year are visiting.

“I think, if we manage this site it should be enough. Hard work is the most important thing. Working for ourselves, and teaching the community. We have already taught several groups so they can make a living from the forest.

But, he says, it is not sufficient to just develop Isio Hill. Alex has to fight to save other nearby spots. The attraction of birdwatching in Nimbokrang is not just at the Isio hills, but also at other spots, including Jalan Korea.

Other well-known birdwatching locations around Papua can be found in Biak, Nimbokrang, Arfak, Sorong and Waigeo.

Author: Asrida Elizabeth

Source: Mongabay Indonesia https://www.mongabay.co.id/2019/07/11/rumah-burung-endemik-papua-di-nimbokrang-terancam-ekspansi-sawit/

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