Tuesday, December 21, 2010

'Tis the season... for planting a new rain forest

The klinik team, and a few of their seedlings

As halls are decked and stockings hung back home, the ASRI reforestation staff put up a few of their own trees this week - 26,000 of them, in fact.  Jacquelyn and I, along with most of the clinic staff, took a break from our usual Friday activities and visited the reforestation site to help finish the job.  Although our contribution was less than 1% of this total count, it was great to see the ‘other side’ of ASRI in action.

Planting all of these seedlings only took a week, but the ASRI reforestation team has worked hard in preparation throughout the past year.  They set up a research outpost and nursery at Laman Satang, a village just adjacent to Gunung Palung National Park, and chose a tract within one of the more heavily logged park sectors.  The better part of the year was spent growing the seedlings, sampling soil, and setting up experimental methods to share this work with other local and global reforestation efforts.  Since October, the reforestation team has added as many as 75 local workmen to help clear the tract and prepare it for planting.

Inspecting seedlings in the nursery.
ASRI’s tract is a tiny piece of the unfortunate landscape in much of Borneo, even within the national parks.  While government logging concessions destroyed over 50% of the virgin rain forest in West Kalimantan during the 1980’s and 90’s, illegal logging has increased more recently.  The global demand for timber, coupled with local economic deprivation and deficient resource protection make it too enticing and too easy to raze a few hectares.  Clear cut and then burned, the pristine lowland rain forest here and across the country is reduced to invasive grasses and shrubs, crowding out any chance for regrowth.
ASRI's 2010 reforestation tract, flanked by a few remaining trees

dr. Robin and one of his many new trees
 While the current rate of illegal logging will wipe out the remaining forest in West Kalimantan by mid-century, ASRI's work is a strong push in the opposite direction.  Now in their second year of planting, they have converted over 10 hectares of wasteland into a future forest that, with protection, will expand its borders and reconnect with patches of preserved forest.  What’s more, ASRI's work seems contagious.  The National Park Service has started their own reforestation program, and even hired a handful of staff that trained at ASRI last year.  By employing local people in the project, ASRI provides jobs in growing trees rather than cutting them.  Even more inspiring, it appears that ASRI is sharing its conservation ethic.   Earlier this year, local villagers gathered to stop a wildfire that approached last year’s reforested tract.  Such community action never occurs on any other uninhabited land.

Once again, Jacquelyn and I are in awe of the work being done here and the people who have the vision and dedication to make it happen.  As painful as it is to separate ourselves from friends and family over the holidays, it is quite a gift to be here.
Jimmy & Jacquelyn celebrating the final count, with dr. Hotlin and dr. Lucy.

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