One of the most important parts of the forest restoration process is to protect the forest area from any further damage. This is not an easy task when you are trying to protect an area of 1000km2, (two thirds the size of Greater London or one and half times the size of Singapore). We have 72 forest patrol staff employed by Harapan Rainforest, the majority of these are indigenous people or from local communities. Some previously hunted in this forest. These are often the people with the best knowledge of the forest area and they are invaluable in the work to protect it.
For monitoring activities, the patrol staff are split into eight teams. Of these, one team will be undergoing training and capacity building, the other eight teams are stationed in different parts of the forest for three weeks at a time. During this period they are constantly monitoring for any signs of illegal activity (illegal logging, encroachment, poaching), for possible fire outbreaks and also recording any important wildlife sightings.
In order to be effective, patrol teams need to be able to handle a variety of situations as they arise. These range from wildlife sightings and community awareness, to incidents of illegal logging and dealing with forest fires. Building such skills has required a large investment from Harapan Rainforest but has also shown an extra ordinary commitment and enthusiasm from the team members, the majority of which are from the local communities. As well as developing physical fitness, training has included map reading and use of GIS, first aid skills, forest law and community policing and developing off-road motorcycle skills. More recently selected patrols have received rope climbing and species identification training, related to biodiversity monitoring.
Fire is an ever present hazard. Our patrols work actively to reduce the risk of fires occurring but inevitably are faced with situations where they must be extinguished. To improve our ability to respond rapidly and effectively forty two forest patrol staff have recently received a second round of training in fire fighting techniques. From these participants, two rapid response teams have been selected to go through a third round of more advanced training, making use of recently acquired protective clothing and fire fighting equipment.
In order to identify priority areas for fire prevention, our GIS officer uses the Forest Information Resources Management System (FIRMS), which provides coordinates of hotspots in Harapan Rainforest that may relate to fires. This information is then given to the forest patrol so these areas can be checked and monitored.
In the 19 months that the forest patrol teams have been carrying out this work, the amount of illegal activity has significantly decreased within Harapan Rainforest and they have successfully put out 82 forest fires.
Research and Conservation
Harapan Rainforest has an active research and conservation program to support the management objectives of Harapan Rainforest in the restoration, rehabilitation and conservation of this forest. Currently, the research programme is focusing on biodiversity surveys and training forest patrol staff. The UK government's Darwin Initiative has provided specific funds which are being used to undertake biodiversity baseline surveys of a wide range of taxa across the variety of habitats in the forest and to establish a monitoring system for the conservation of this threatened habitat. In time, this programme will be sustained and developed in the form of a permanent research and training centre that will be of benefit to researchers throughout the region. This centre will hold museum collections of invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians recorded at Harapan Rainforest, while an on-site herbarium has already been established.
Survey work has so far focused on hornbills and mammals. Hornbills, of which all nine Sumatran species are found in Harapan Rainforest, are surveyed along transects walked by either the research team or forest patrol teams. Local hornbill populations are being supported by a nest-box scheme, previously funded by The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and currently supported by the Seaworld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. Surveys of all bird species will begin later in 2009 and it is likely this work will add to the 295 species already recorded in Harapan Rainforest. Mammal surveys, using camera traps and occupancy transects, are being carried out to continue the inventory of this group, assess species presence-absence across the site and begin relating these data to species abundance. So far 54 mammal species have been recorded in Harapan Rainforest. This number largely excludes bats and rodents for which future surveys are planned. A specific camera trap study is being conducted on Malayan Sun Bear to assess their abundance and distribution across the site and is being funded by the Bear Conservation Fund of the International Association for Bear Research and Management.
Forest ecosystem restoration on this scale has never been done before so will require the development of new techniques and approaches. The first rule of forest restoration is to prevent further degradation and our initial efforts have been focused around this. Whilst this remains an ongoing battle, our progress to date allows us to now turn our attention to practical restoration. In developing our forest restoration strategy for Harapan Rainforest we are very fortunate in having help and guidance from one of our project partners, the Forest Restoration and Research Unit (FORRU) at Chiang Mai University, Thailand. FORRU has many years experience in the restoration of degraded habitats and have quite literally 'written the book' on 'How to Plant a Forest'. We have already translated this book into Indonesian and are now adapting FORRU's framework species approach to our particular conditions. At a macro level we have been using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), satellite imagery and ground-truthing to identify and classify the different forest areas within Harapan Rainforest based on habitat cover and species composition. This will be used to identify which forest areas are suitable for specific forest restoration approaches. The four planting strategies are:
- To leave the area untouched for natural regeneration (where an area already has a good diversity of species and vegetation cover)
- Assist in natural regeneration (cut back certain species to allow others to grow)
- Enrichment planting (where certain species groups are missing, particular tree species will be planted to create a more diverse habitat)
- Planting of specific framework species (this is the method developed by FORRU for severely damaged areas whereby a selection of framework species, chosen for their attractiveness to a wide range of seed-dispersing animals and for their ability to quickly create a microclimate supportive of natural regeneration by other species, are planted).
At present, the forest restoration team is involved in a variety of tasks including:
- Developing the skills and capacity needed for the future.
- Carrying out an inventory of tree species and recording their abundance within Harapan Rainforest.
- Monitoring the phenology (fruiting and flowering times) of tree species in different areas of the forest.
- Collecting seeds for planting in the nursery.
- Maintaining and monitoring seedlings and saplings within the nursery.
- Planting saplings from the nursery into selected plots within the site.
We hope that the techniques for large-scale forest restoration which will be developed over the coming years at Harapan Rainforest will become a working example of good ecosystem restoration and management for use throughout Indonesia and globally.