Monday, December 25, 2006

Another sign the new peace in Aceh is causing rapid deforestation

Today a story at BBC News describes flood rescue operations in Aceh and Northern Sumatra. This sort of seasonal flooding will get worse, and cause more damage, mudslides and erosion if deforestation is not curbed, and reforestation is not initiated. Global climate change also threatens the seasonal patterns of monsoons, right now being described as making the dry season droughtier, and the wet season extremely wet, with atypically torrential rains.

Another observation about rubber - it is a good crop in the lowlands now subjected to inundation, as mature trees survive long periods of flooding, must be their Amazonian origin. A cavet thpough, there are plenty of Sumatran peatswamp and back-mangal trees that should be used in reforestation (maybe even economically justified as intercropping for timber/fuel wood, buffers against pests and disease in commercial tree crops) so that their biodiversity is conserved, alongside their native commensal biota.

I have a very good sense of what a pilot reforestry and biodiversity inventory project for Aceh could begin with, if there are any potential patrons out there. In the end, I imagine I will go back and do what I can with what I have, which is insignificant, financially ($450/mo. the equivalent of a professional salary for myself in Sumatra - I can afford to be there), but unique in terms of my experience and skill in doing native plant propagation in the States, my study of desturbed lowland, beach and mangrove forests in Sumatra, my language skills, and connections.
I suppose I really only came back because I was excited by the prospect of (U.S. vs. the East) peace in the Murtha resolution, and to have an opportunity to say good by to family, drinking, dancing, porn and politics. Politics might be the hardest one to give up, and foreigners in SE Asia can't and shouldn't play politics individually, though apparently groups like and are almost welcome and useful. The internet, too, while occasionally useful, will be something I would have to give up.

I am without real capacity to fund real connectivity for an isolated biology research and forestry station, but real connectivity could give access to researchers and taxonomists high-resolution images of fresh specimens, and they could remotely guide the work of parataxonomists (which I can't personally afford to train or pay salaries for). Those same parataxonomists, if the existed near a decent satellite internet connection, could access PDFs on plant identification, monographs and floras, or publish their own to the world.

I would rather do biology and conservation, and live in some Sumatran village close to nature while it survives in the forms there I first saw it in. Anyway, finding real financial backing might make the difference between science with real and rapid impact, vs. the kind of slow moving, excentric and romantic thing I might accomplish alone, like a modern Alfred Russell Wallace, or perhaps a Kostermans, who had more professional exchanges with colleagues and peers than Wallace had in Wallace's seven years in what became Indonesia, yet Kosterman's work was somewhat eccentric do to a lack of access to the technological tools that drove modern plant systematics, and because of the general disinterest in understanding real biodiversity in nature in the West. In the West, there aren't quite as many species of mangoes as Kostermans imagined he came to know in the field, according to the molecules and the dried plant specimens, and conventional thinking about what an official species is, vs. a population, etc.

Tomorrow, of course, is the two year anniversary of the tsunami that killed so many people, and lead to restarted peace negotiations in Aceh.

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