MAC: Mines and Communities

Indonesia's New National Park Will Not Halt Mining Plans

Published by MAC on 2004-11-12

Making a Mockery of "Protection"

This week saw the inauguration of Indonesia's newest national park on Halmahera island. But it was a pyrrhic victory: the same area is threatened by Canada's Weda Bay Minerals (WBM) with its plans for a large new nickel mine. Worse, the land is traditional territory of the Tobelo Dalam people and home to several unique bird species.

Earlier this year, Indigenous, human rights, and environmental groups in Indonesia, failed to stop the unilateral (and arguably illegal) abrogation of legislation which would have prevented, not only this mine but around a dozen others in Indonesia's forests For his part the president of WBM boasts of the role his company played in destroying such protection. - while at the same time giving grants towards the park project. What, then, of the role of Birdlife which, though it helped create the Halmahera park, is very ready to work in close partnership with mining companies such as Rio Tinto?

Indonesia's New National Park Will Not Halt Mining Plans

Environmental News Service (ENS)

November 12, 2004

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Today, Indonesia has a new national park that aims to protect at least 23 bird species found nowhere else in the world. The Aketajawe Nature Reserve and the Lalobata Protected Forest on the Indonesian island of Halmahera were together declared a National Park by the Indonesian Minister of Forestry on Thursday.

The park will protect 167,300 hectares of hill and lowland rainforest of exceptional biodiversity importance, says BirdLife International, which has worked for more than eight years to accomplish this level of protection for the area.

The timing of the announcement is especially significant as it coincides with BirdLife's publication of the "Important Bird Areas of Asia," the organization said. But Weda Bay Minerals, a Canadian mining exploration and development company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, has approval to develop a nickel and cobalt mine and processing facility on Halmahera Island.

The company, through its Indonesian subsidiary, P.T. Weda Bay Nickel, will be developing the mine in the Aketajawe Nature Reserve and Lalobata Protected Forest, regardless of the new national park status of the area.

In July, the Indonesian Parliament decided that companies could mine in protected forests if they held permits before a 1999 law, Law 41, was passed that banned such mining.

In addition to the new language added to Law 41, a Presidential Decree passed this summer states that 13 companies, including P.T. Weda Bay Nickel, have met the conditions which allow them to apply for the required mining licenses.

Weda Bay President and CEO John Lynch said, "Achievement of this outcome was the result of close cooperation between government and the mining industry and in which P.T. Weda Bay Nickel played a leading role. This has only been possible through the excellent relationships the company has made at all levels of government and the relevant parliamentary commissions."

The park is essential for at least 23 bird species that are found only in the North Maluku district including the Wallace's Standardwing Semioptera wallacei, that BirdLife calls "charismatic."

Three of Halmahera's four unique species - the sombre kingfisher, Halcyon funebris; the Halmahera cuckooshrike, Coracina parvula; and the dusky oriole, Oriolus phaeocromus, are found within the boundaries of the new park.

The final species, the invisible rail, Habroptila wallacii, may prove to be there too, although it has not yet been seen.

The park is also home to a semi-nomadic community of people known as the Tobelo Dalam, whose traditional lifestyle has been increasingly under pressure as forests are logged and cleared for settlement and plantations, BirdLife explains.

Aketajawe-Lolobata was originally identified as an Important Bird Area following BirdLife survey work in the 1994 to 1996 period, supported by the British Birdfair and the Loro Parque Foundation.

More recently, research into the area has been carried out by BirdLife Indonesia, the Indonesian government's Directorate-General of Forest Conservation, the local University of Pattimura, and local conservation groups Hualopu and North Maluku Environmental Conservation.

In 1999 the Indonesian Government agreed to create the park, but civil unrest in Maluku Province delayed the declaration until stability returned to the area in 2002. In the meantime, says BirdLife, there has been widespread forest clearance, so the creation of the island's first protected area is especially welcome.

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