MAC: Mines and Communities

A park for the Kutai - or for KPC?

Published by MAC on 2001-05-01

A park for the Kutai - or for KPC?

All visitors to KPC - except those privileged to fly in at the company's expense, or resourceful enough to approach by sea through the Makassar Strait - motor through the Tasman Nasional Kutai (Kutai National Park) for a distance of about 75 kms, before reaching Sangatta township, which lies within the original boundaries of the park, on the southern bank of the river Sangatta. It is another four kilometres due north to the settlement village of Teluk Lingga and a short two kilometres to Sangatta Baru, the modern mining township. The coal pits and waste dumps straddle the majority of the COW, hugging its boundaries to the south and east (although one small piece of the lease's south eastern corner actually overlaps with the park).

The Park authorities claim that it possesses the largest area of lowland dipterocarp rainforest and ironwood forests in Kalimantan and probably Indonesia. It is managed by a consortium of international and national organisations, including the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). A management plan was written in 1985 but never implemented [Alan Irving, Coal Mining and the environment: an East Kalimantan study PT KPC, paper delivered to the International Conference on Mining and the Environment, Bandung, July 1991].

In a second development plan for Tasman Nasional Kutai, set out in 1991 and sponsored by KPC, full credit was given to the company for being aware that "...its large-scale mining operations during many years to come could entail certain risks to the conservation of flora and fauna of the park". In response KPC "wants to do more...than just being a good neighbour" and promised "moral and material support to the park", making Kutai "exemplary for protected area management" [Ministry of Forestry Indonesia, Directorate of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation, Kutai National Park Indonesia: Developmental Plan 1952-1996; Operating Plan 1992 Framework for Management]. The study identified a number of endemic problems, including poor existing management, industrial threats (but not, of course including those from KPC!), poaching, illegal settlements within the park, and the Bontang-Sangatta road, which started construction in 1990 and is part of the Trans-Kalimantan highway; in particular threats to the orang-utan population were identified.

The most controversial recommendation of the developmental plan was that a protective buffer zone should be created, south of KPC's lease, from Sangatta Baru in the northwest, along the line of the coal conveyor to Tanjung Baru in the east, and with a western border stretching north to south, which is outside KPC's Sangatta-Linnga industrial development area, and follows the Sangatta River down to the coast at Tanjung Sangatta. This zone would be managed by KPC itself.

There is a savage irony in the fact that a company which has caused considerable destruction to tropical rainforest by its mine operations (whatever its dubious claims to be replicating that forest) should be entrusted to manage a considerable area of land, in order at least partly to mitigate its deleterious impacts on an adjacent National Park. The importance of the Sangatta catchment area to the Park's viability was noted in the developmental plan: the first priority in protecting its quality and availability should surely have been to ban any industrial activity which might impact it.

However, Rio Tinto and BP are experts at creating dependency among their putative critics. Cynics might judge that KPC's sponsorship of the development and protection of the Kutai National Park bears the hallmarks of a classic "recuperation" exercise. Judging by WWF-Indonesia's failure to say anything critical of the mining operation (and Rio Tinto's successful head-hunting of WWF personnel to join its eponymous Foundation in Indonesia), would those critics be far wrong?

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