Ecosystem Management: For a World We Can Live In

Ecosystem Management and Forest Policy in Indonesian Borneo*

Dr. Lisa Curran

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In the spirit of my interdisciplinary position which is a joint position between biology and the School of Natural Resources and Environment, my talk today will integrate the science research that I have been working on as well as the policy. The central issue in both biology and natural resource management is understanding ecological processes in a variety of temporal and spatial scales. But I strongly believe that to be effective in addressing wise resource use, these studies must be directly linked to investigations on the rate, intensity, and extent of human disturbance. This is within a complex social, economic, and political context. So this is a major challenge, especially for those of us working in the international arena, to put ourselves into this context. Today I will explore how the dominant themes of ecosystem management apply to forests of Indonesia and Borneo. Because the political is personal and the personal is political, for those feminists out there, I'm going to put it in the context of the political and social realities in Indonesia, as well as my personal role as an ecologist affecting policy change in Indonesia over the last twelve years. I have three main points. As in life, timing is everything. Whether you are a commercial timber tree trying to regenerate or working on forest policy in the government, there are windows of opportunity and change. And, second, targeted ecological studies can and do affect policies. This is real important to most of the policy makers out there who are looking for good information in a framework and a format that they can use. Third, but not least, is that the University of Michigan has, and has been asked to play, an important role in the wise use of Indonesia's resource and forest space.

Indonesia and its Forests

This is my world. Instead of the mitten, you now see the map of Indonesia. It's 17,000 islands and would span across the entire continental US. It contains seven bio-geographic realms. The Indo-Malaysian as well as Australian and at least 60 distinct ecosystems. Although we have just begun to type them. With over 300 distinct ethnic groups, Indonesia is truly a mega-diversity country both in terms of biodiversity and culture diversity. Indonesia is home to 200 million people. Now Indonesian Java, the small island south, is the fourth most populous nation on the planet. But the population is very unevenly distributed. Java, which contains 65% of the population, or about 112 million people, contains a land area of almost 7%. Whereas Borneo, which is 526,000 square kilometers, contains a population of about 10 million people. Now, this 10 million people is about the size of the capital city Jakarta, so I shuffle between two places­one of the most densely populated in the world and one of the most sparsely populated in the world. Indonesia Borneo is the lower portion. It's divided into four provinces: West, Central, South, and East. My focus of research will be primarily in West Kalimantan.

Now Indonesia, and Borneo itself, extracts timber which is the main source of income for the Indonesian country, about 35% of the GNP. Just realize that in Indonesia in 1967 the GNP was $50 per capita. So it was one of the poorest countries in the world in 1967. When Suharto came into power in 1967, he divided up the entire land area of Indonesia. Of 114 million hectares he gave 65 million hectares to ten military officers or generals as a favor for backing him in the coup. So, 45% of the land area was divided up on a map and given out to 525 timber concessions. And 10 individuals are some of the most powerful in the world. It's a very different situation to the forestry system we see here. Indonesian Borneo annually exports $9.2 billion in export earnings from timber alone. Now, why is this? The forests are dominated by dipterocarps. The family Dipterocarpaceae is all throughout Southeast Asia. They can be 40 to 100% of the canopy trees and this will give you a sense of stocking and scale. So these forests are economically tremendously valuable. And they also contain what you would call Philippine mahogany. It's also one of the greatest supplies of plywood and Indonesia controls 95% of the world's tropical plywood trade. Moreover, logging has accelerated throughout the region and selective logging is essentially a misnomer when you can take 80% of the canopy trees and selectively clear cut in these areas. So now just consider from a tropical perspective more exports of tropical timber being taken out of Borneo than all of Latin America and Africa combined.

Indonesia and Ecosystem Management

So to move into the topic of ecosystem management, I and most Indonesians do not use the term ecosystem management. And I'm sure that most developing countries, especially those in Southeast Asia, have not heard the term used. However, if ecosystem management means taking a broad based approach, is a process of decision making that uses a deep understanding of local and regional information about ecological and human social processes and the interconnections between them; and collaboratively develop and implement short or long term management strategies that seek to influence human behavior and ecosystem dynamics. Most importantly if it seeks to maintain and restore ecological systems while fostering human development patterns that are sustainable, both ecologically, economically, organizationally, and politically over the long term. then, within this context, this is how the Indonesians view ecosystem management.

So ecosystem management is basically dubbed sustainable development. I had to put the mitten in there. Everybody else had one. This is to give you a sense of scale. This is my world. Welcome to it. Although I have barely traveled around Washtenaw County, I have surveyed over 4 million hectares of West Kalimantan over the last 13 years. This province is the third largest timber exporting region. Note that this has been a major source of timber. 79% of the forested area is operated by state run timber concessions handed out to military interests. The black areas are plantations which are clear cut plantations after logging for pulp and paper of exotic species. So, we start with a very different political and social scenario. Now there are also 4 or 5 million people living on this island in the remaining 12% of the land area. So here is just a brief comparison. There is the land area; we have a comparable land area and that for Michigan includes the upper peninsula and lower peninsula. Look at the forested timber area and that's about 79% of Kalimantan. Industry control is 100%. No protected forest area. This 6% was part of my crusade over the last 10 years. You've got 6% of these protected. Now, ownership is primarily federal. So we have a central government very far away from the area and we have a very similar population, very low population density, but very similar to Michigan in about the late 1800s. As I mentioned about the crusade to establish 3 national parks in Indonesia: Gunung Palung, Bukit Baka/Bukit Raya, and Bentuang Karimun. Now when I say national parks, these are parks that are to be used by local communities for harvesting of products, timber, and wildlife. They are not set aside per se. All three areas contain a tremendous diversity of ecosystem types from Mangrove to Lowlands, Riparian forests to Montane Hill and Dipterocarp regions. So we were looking both to set aside major ecosystem types within Kalimantan and also to protect areas for long term community human use. The soils range from peat swamps and bogs, various acetic soils to limestone, spectacular landscape. Actually, when I was surveying this, I was crying it was so beautiful. I could barely take these pictures.


The main focus of my research has been on the very spectacular and very unusual pattern of reproduction of these canopy trees. The Dipterocarpaceae, about 385 species from 9 genre, all synchronize reproduction in one event over many irregular years. They have been known to synchronize over tremendous spatial scales. So we are talking about something like 1.5 million square kilometers. The islands of Borneo, Sumatra, and peninsular Asia were known to all synchronize reproduction in the early 50s. This is called masting. And you are familiar through oaks in the temperate forest where there is irregular pulse of seed production or seed crops interspersed by many years with no production. But unlike oaks this is the world's most tremendous case of social organization of canopy trees. All of these trees from the lowland canopy forest, from understory to canopy emergent trees, all synchronize reproduction. So you can see immediately this would be a very key problem in terms of forest management. There is no dormancy and there are no animals that scatter these seeds. They are all wind dispersed. So a major evolutionary ecology puzzle is why do all these trees synchronize reproduction and then on what spatial scales and how do we manage a system like this?

My ecological research spanned a number of spatial scales over the past years. First, I looked at a number of populations of dipterocarp species to look at the demography recruitment and regeneration. I looked at and monitored communities over three square kilometers of their seed production; at the role of seed predators and other agents and their recruitment. Then I worked across ecosystems--seven forest types that span from 15 to about 1,100 meters above sea level, and two large mountain valley complexes about 15 square kilometers. So these are part of long term demography regeneration and recruitment studies to understand the basic ecology of these trees in light of forest management. Some of the landscape and regional studies we were surveying were protected areas and also those that have been logged, and were throughout the region of West Kalimantan, which is about 150 square kilometers. This is a pattern of viable seed production--96% of the seed falls within 5 weeks. So when I said timing was key, it's timing for researchers. It's very difficult to write your grants and get on the plane in time to catch the mast. It happens on very irregular intervals. This is the most extreme case of interspecific multi-species masting with long periods of no seed production. So, I was asking the question "why do they do this?" Especially since it creates very dense carpets of seedlings that you would think, given that they are facing high competition, flies in the face of many of our ecological theories of what maintains species diversity in tropical forests. These should be competitors for soil, nutrients and light. Why are they all producing these carpets of seeds at the same time?

One lucky occurrence for me was there was a natural experiment. I have been monitoring over 3000 dipterocarp trees from 56 species both in the size of reproduction, the frequency of production, and basically their pattern of mortality and growth. Now you can see that the first is in 1986, the middle is in 1987, and the last graph is in 1991. 92% of all trees across all of these ecosystems types synchronize reproduction. This slide only shows you canopy trees. These are trees that are 50 DBH and greater. Those are the size trees that foresters are able to extract. So forest policy in Indonesia allows them to cut essentially all the reproductive trees in the forest. Now the minor mast, which I called the first slide, was where about 30% of the tress reproduced about 20 kilos of seed per hectare. It was a tremendous amount of seed production and gave us some insights of what would happen in a forest area if there wasn't a complete synchrony of all the trees.

Local Dyak communites actually collect these seeds. There are about six species whose seeds get up to about 60 grams. They are used in oil, butter and for exports. Using a little adaptive management, I was able to look at the regional seed production--this is over all of West Kalimantan. There's a couple of things to note on this sign. It's rather busy but from '68 to '97 it shows you the seed production in million kilos of seed dry mass. There are three things to note. One is that it's highly synchronized and timed. It's very correlated. 80% of the variation is explained by timing with El Nino southern oscillations or ENSO climatic events, global patterns. So the dipterocarps are actually using ENSO climatic cues to synchronize their reproduction. Also, the arrows are when I began a study so it puts research in a region on the landscape level in parts, so I can see how my mast events correspond to those over the last 20 years. And finally, this is a non-timber forest product from a timber tree and it's worth $25.8 million to the local communities of Borneo. This is their major source of revenue. This is when they send their children to school, buy other sorts of items and we are looking at a per capita income of about $200. So it's a major source of revenue, but it's also important to note that it's in direct competition with commercial logging.

Commercial logging in that same period is orders of magnitude larger; it's about $2.5 billion in earnings. So you can see the conflict right now in terms of resource use. This is the spotted owl of Borneo. It doesn't taste like chicken. This is the wild boar. It's a relative of the domesticated boar. This is the reason dipterocarp mast. Now, before these studies, no one had looked at the vertebrate and insect communities that rely on dipterocarp seeds and I had to look at this spatial and temporal pattern in vertabrum movement to understand why they would be synchronized at such scales. Now, before this, and in fact it's published by many ecologists, they said dipterocarps were not food for animals. They are wind dispersed seeds. Therefore, removing 80% of the canopy would have very little affect on the ecosystems in Borneo. However, the bearded pig, which is about 200 kilos; the orangutans, and you notice I was very close to this guy; and also the long tailed parakeet; timed their migrations and their movements into these national parks and some of the forested areas to prey solely upon dipterocarp seeds. It's a major source in their diets and it was only determined during that minor mast. The real puzzle is when the mast occurs across very large spatial scales and an ecologist working on a local level may miss it. So, when we had only 30% of the trees fruiting, we saw massive migrations--200 fold differences--and the levels of pigs, primates (mainly orangutans) and the parakeets coming into the area. This is the breakfast of a parakeet, so they are highly generalized. They eat all the seeds and within ten days during the minor mast they destroyed 16 kilos of seed. So even though 30% of the trees reproduced, none of the seeds survived. So it was a key observation, and understanding they eat a spatial of fruiting but understanding that the level must be across very many scales and incomplete.

Implications of Dipterocarpaceae Masting Behavior

This is a difficult slide to see but on the left hand side on the y axis is the number of observation hours. We were censusing vertebrates for the last eight years throughout this region. The top axis is actually dipterocarp seed production corresponding to the parrots, pigs, and jungle fowl movements. So you can see there was a 200 fold increase. One of the most striking lessons that I learned is that the parakeets were only in the lowland forests, the protected national park, for a brief twelve days over the last five years, and mainly in Mangrove swamps feeding on other resources. So, it's a very rare event that you could miss but critically an important one for these vertebrate communities. Also it is very difficult to track and get good population densities. So the pigs and the partridges are not respecting ecosystem or national park boundaries by any means. And finally, most of the Dyak populations [Dyak is a general term for the diverse ethnic groups in Kalimantan] depend on pig for their primary source of protein. There was one ecological and economic study of replacement of pig in their diet so this is a considerable amount of money to actually to pay, to buy or purchase protein and feed. So they move across the landscape as well during these massive migrations. They actually have lots of boar in their diet. This is a little Ponon boar during the hunts. Up to 100,000 pigs were migrating through an area; the ground trembles. It's a spectacular event to see, especially when they cross major river systems. Now the bearded pig only reproduced during mast events. So we have an interesting network of both spatial and temporal scales of seed production, vertebrate movement and local community livelihoods.

Can we bring this back to Michigan? Think about the acorns again. Was it any different here? I think not. The passenger pigeon was once 3 billion birds. Audubon describes it as blackening the sky. They moved over very large spatial scales throughout the northeast and midwest. They would descend on acorn and beech crops. And when the native americans were moving over the landscape they had similar patterns of both hunting and resource use. So, then I asked the question, "how does large scale selective logging, both the rate, extent and intensity, affect this reproductive system?" This is a dipterocarp masting in a sea of logged over forest and I asked questions about the pattern and the success of these trees for natural regeneration. This is just to show that this is near the national park at Bukit Baka/Bukit Raya and the scale and intensity of dipterocarps being harvested. Dipterocarps are 95% of the timber extracted in those regions. And also the spatial scale. This is Bentuang Karimun National Park where I spent the last 10 years working. And I no longer can do the vertebrate censuses that I had begun years ago in the sense that the entire mosaic surrounding it by timber concessions have been logging since the mid-80s. Note the agricultural areas in blue. So we don't have a case where there is a lot of shifting or agriculturists moving into forest areas. We are looking at large scale timber conglomerates and the use over the area.

However, I use logging in two unique ways. One, I used it as a large scale experiment; a density dependent experiment of how does changes in the density of dipterocarps affect recruitment and regeneration? Also, I tried to understand and integrate the ecology studies with more applied studies across this region. So after spending some time learning about the natural system with empirical studies and manipulations, I did some large scale studies with timber concessions where there are actually no forest treatments. So we could just see what is the affect of dipterocarp removal over large scales on a different sequence on recruitment. Next, I worked with a model concession when I was a US AID senior forestry advisor and senior, yes, I'm used to these age jokes, was a misnomer, I was 25 years younger than anyone. The only time US AID had ever hired an ecologist and the only woman on the staff of mainly economists. However, we worked with a model timber concession; Consuma [name of company] is similar to Weyerhaeuser in that it controls 2.4 million hectares, about the same area of holdings that Weyerhaeuser has in the US. However, they applied full treatments as prescribed by the Indonesian government.

Changing the Indonesian Logging & Harvesting System

Armed with the ecological background and understanding the system, I went in to test the basic assumptions of the Indonesian selective logging and harvesting system, from both a socio-economic and ecological perspective. While I did this, I presented this to the Indonesian government and World Bank and a number of the donors, and I was asked by the Indonesian Minister of Land Use Planning and Development to continue as his personal forestry advisor. It was the first time any of these basic policies had been, a) challenged and, b) understood what they meant in practice. I won both the backing of NGO's and of governmental organizations as well as responsible timber concessionaires, because someone who is field-based understands how logging works. Really the enrichment planting, for example, was requiring these timber concessionaires to apply something that was very misaligned and did not fit with the ecology of Bornian forests.

Then I went and did an application of how were these results to affect central government policy. So I surveyed all 72 timber concessions in West Kalimantan. I went through their 20-year records and compiled a number of different pieces of information to put together the puzzle and investigated 15 or 16 of these timber concessions in a randomly stratified way, including big companies, those connected to downstream industries. This gave us some insight of how we could affect policy change with something that was realistic, field based, of what was actually going on in the ground. That was conveyed in a number of policy memos both to the Minister of Forestry and to the Minister of Land Use Planning and Development. They were looking at this as a major resource base that they were not using wisely. This is just to show you the difference with a lot of the donor agencies and those working in the central government, is they really never got down in the field and asked: What's your incentives here? Are you getting paid by the cubic meter? What kind of decisions would you make? So we looked at it from staff, replanting, timber concessionaires and managers to understand the incentives of these companies, and what may work as reduced impact logging or something that would actually increase economic benefits to the country, and reduce the ecological damage.

This work is not very glamorous. I've spent two years living in logging camps such as this. This is kind of my terminator team. The crew that I hung out with. Abdula, the local who had been working chain saw; Tu Tus has been living in the forestry industry for years. It was very different than some of the big donor agencies who would drive up in a Mercedes and walk around for a day. I lived in this shack for about 3 months. I'm still here to talk about it actually. You can notice the chain saw operator on the far left. He's the one with the cut on his head, since it's a very dangerous profession. But most of the people that I worked with were very pleased to have someone who is both interested in what was going on and, actually have a voice in some of the things that they wanted to change in terms of both policy and practices. So we followed the chain from both harvest and actual extraction through the chain of custody, logs, down through the plywood mills.

This is, just briefly looking at the forestry policy timeline in both US and Indonesia. And first and foremost is what goes on in the US is very important to policy leaders. They are very aware. Most of the changes that happen in policy in 1991-1992 came with the Clinton-Gore ticket. They were very conscious of Al Gore's sponsoring of the tropical timber ban when he was a senator. Many of the timber concessionaires mentioned this. There were a number of other activities going on in the international arena. Certainly the Real Earth Summit, tropical timber bans were mentioned. The International Timber Trade Organization put up a sustainable criteria by the year 2000. So what we were able to implement during that brief window was a period of proposing timber certification, changing spatial planning, and we then moved into this last year of 1996 and 1997 to really change forest policy to be regional, bio-regional [or spatial planning], to give more control to those responsible timber concessionaires. In fact, they are allowed to seek now, for the first time, timber certification. We revamped some of the land use policies to edge toward community based forest management which, in a state controlled nation, is a major step. We even changed US AID. So, in 1994, we did a 10-year sector review for US AID. Now they are performance based so the funding is based on partnerships--both with Universities, non-governmental organizations, and outputs. It's also easing into a change in political structure and management of the resource base in Indonesia.

So, now what we are working toward is bio-regional planning. There's been a move toward de-evolution of para-infrastructures. We are looking at land use both in terms of watershed, mangrove, and park management on a very different scale than we were before. They are putting into place individuals both from the outside and within the government and supporting non-governmental organizations to look at a more integrated approach to land use in Indonesia. One of the 1997 case studies is West Kalimantan; it has been singled out by the Indonesian government to look at how they can decentralize their role to still achieve national ecological and social economic objectives. To look at working at an appropriate spatial scale for management and, for the first time, talking about empowerment of stakeholders. This was a major change and it has given me a lot of hope for resource management in that region. They have been asking the Indonesian government, specifically the Minister of Land Use Planning and Natural Resources and Environment, for the best science and forestry information on these regions. They have asked many of my students to produce key policy memos on time to multiple use forestry or joint implementation for carbon offsets. They are looking to promote private sector and public partnerships both from US industries as well as in the Indonesian private sector. They are looking at collaborative voluntary partnerships. They are using adaptive processes so they're looking, for the first time, at experimenting and changing forest policy--which is very rigid with prescriptions--to something that is performance based and based on some sustainable indicators.


Michigan has an incredible role to play in the Indonesian forestry sector. It's difficult to see but we often go to our meetings with either Wolverine or Spartan caps. Okay? The Minister of Environment is a graduate of SNRE. Land Use Planning and Development took the dancing course from Julia and Steve. We go to these meetings and the Minister of Forestry, Forestry Use Industry, Parks and Conservation have either graduated from Michigan State or the University of Michigan in terms of the International Forestry courses. It's been a tremendous surprise to me just being associated with the University of Michigan, what a wonderful role we can play and have played in both training and influencing policy makers. To be clear here, there is still a lot of tension between Michigan State and Michigan. My last trip I bought about 20 hats for the Detroit Red Wings championship so we, at least, could all represent Michigan. So they have asked us to form a partnership in working both with forest policy and with environmental management.

So, on that note I'm just beginning to think that we can have a global view. That Michigan does have an important role to play and the lessons learned here is that timed, well-timed targeted research exchanged with policy makers, can influence change. One last note. For the political stability. Last year there was an incredible massacre across West Kalimantan where 30 thousand homes were burned and there was ethnic violence. So the government is also very receptive to resource issues and change because they are realizing this is important to keep the nation together. Given that most, if not all, communities are dependent on forest use, specifically dipterocarps and the vertebrate communities that depend on them, this becomes a major issue in this arena. Finally, science without a soul is very difficult to translate especially when you work with local communities. They have asked, and often in cases I've provided a voice for those who cannot speak. So, when we are talking about sustainable development, it's also a question of intergenerational equity.

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Curran, Lisa. Ecosystem Management and Forest Policy in Indonesian Borneo. Presentation given at Symposium "Ecosystem Management: For a world we can live in." September 25, 1997. University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and Environment. Ann Arbor, MI.

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