Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fires on Sumatra and Borneo

In Indonesia, fires continue to produce smoke and haze that disrupts transportation through the region, and endangers wildlife. It obviously also destroys the plant biodiversity of the forests, too.

If people in the U.S. (with the large amounts of money promised to combat climate change) are serious about stopping carbon emissions, stopping these fires would be one obvious kind of carbon emisson we can do with out. Also, replanting native, diverse forests to replace the forests lost to these fires would be a carbon sink, and could attract eco-tourism, be managed for selective logging as well as yield valuable non-timber forest products: resins, oils, rattan, fruits, etc.

The U.S. Congress has previously allocated monies for the charismatic megafauna of these forests (rhinos, tigers, asian elephants) but money to inventory and conserve the plant biodiversity and physical habitats of Sumatra and Borneo would be a wiser investment. People talk during these fires about relocating wildlife. Where? Are you going to take an orangutan out of the last patch of burning forest and put it on a bus to Jakarta, to get a job and live in an apartment? Animals need habitat. Habitat is comprised of physical space, water, plants for forage and cover. We can't save elephants without balancing land uses between human and elephant needs. That is what FFI was working on in Aceh, before the tsunami. That was a valid use of some of that Asian Elephant Conservation Act money provided by the U.S. Congress.

Now, it will take something more flexible, less bureaucratic to get real reforestry going, first in the area of the tsunami and logging caused by the need to rebuild, but if Bill Clinton and Richard Branson are serious about combatting global climate change, training up the next generation of foresters, botanists, nursery workers and project managers from Acehnese and other Sumatran contexts is a great way to start spending a small amount of the private money they've promised to spend.

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