FES talks focus on deforestation

This week, delegates from the World Wildlife Foundation of Indonesia were at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies to discuss the effects of illegal deforestation on the Indonesian community with leaders in the field, including professor of tropical resources Lisa Curran, who is also the director of the Tropical Resources Institute at the environment school.

The talks and subsequent research aim at examining changes in forest land use on the Indonesian island of Borneo and the implications of logging — legally, socially, economically and physically. Curran said Indonesia has been devastated by illegal logging, as 60 percent of Indonesian forests and national parks have been cut down illegally.

Curran will take a team of students and other researchers to Borneo this summer to explore the forests. She said the group will research the effects of illegal deforestation on the indigenous people of the world’s second largest island, as well as the island’s biodiversity and ecosystem.

“We basically live there, work there, everything,” Curran said. “It’s a really intense place, and we monitor all these problems that deforestation is causing in this community, both among the people and in nature.”

The delegates also discussed the recent Environmental Global Aid Campaign symposium in which all of the Global Aid Countries met to discuss the problem with Indonesia’s forests, as well as forests in other nations.

Over 70 European companies signed an agreement pledging not to use or import wood derived products, such as timber or paper, that originated from woodlands that were illegally deforested.

“The United States, of course, was the only country to hold out on the agreement,” Curran said.

The main focus of the agreement is for the European Union to mobilize companies within its borders to ban illegally produced timber. Non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace, along with about 70 others, promoted these measures.

Given the recent attempts to ban illegally produced timber, Curran said the research team is very excited to go to Borneo right now.

The investigative trip is funded by a grant from NASA which Curran received in January. The grant gives her approximately $675,000 for three years to pay for students and herself to go to Indonesia, as well as to pay NASA to provide satellite imagery of the island.

Satellite imagery allows the researchers to analyze the land changes and effects of deforestation, Curran said.

She said the research will also attempt to quantify the amount of carbon in the environment resulting from the deforestation. Carbon concentrations are currently higher than usual due to the El Nino weather phenomenon in 1997 and 1998.

“It’s pretty exciting to be able to do this, especially to have an increased opportunity to work with Dr. Curran in general is great,” said David Butman FES ’06, who will be in charge of quantifying carbon in Borneo. “People usually give Indonesia this bad reputation because of terrorism, but it really is an incredible environment to study.”

The environment school’s administration also looks favorably upon Curran’s research and her recent achievements with the NASA funding. David DeFusco, the school’s spokesman, said one of Curran’s strengths is that her research can be used to solve environmental problems in tropical developing countries.

“She had contributed tremendously to FES’s professional degree program and is one of the reasons why the school is world-class in tropical ecology,” DeFusco said.

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