An Intact Forest Landscapes (IFL) is a territory within today’s global extent of forest cover which contains forest and non-forest ecosystems minimally influenced by human economic activities, with an area of at least 500 km2 (50,000 hectare) and a minimal width of 10 km (measured as the diameter of a circle that is entirely inscribed within the boundaries of the territory) as defined by the World Resources Institute.

IFL, is important as habitat of a great diversity of plants and animals, home and source of livelihoods for indigenous people and it has an important hydrological function, to retain and regulate (fresh) water. IFL functions as ‘giant sponge’, which absorbs rain water during wet seasons and maintains stream flow during dry seasons.

Considering that water is a basic need for the people and given the importance of IFL related to the water, awareness campaigns to protect the remaining IFL should be directed towards policy makers, the private sector and the community. Water and forest issues may also change the current climate negotiations topics that only focus on greenhouse gas emissions.

The importance of IFL has also been recognized recently by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international organization which promotes responsible management of the world’s forests, as it has included IFL protection in their certification and labelling of forest products since September 11, 2014.

In short, IFLs are important to maintain biodiversity, social capital and essential ecological processes from the ridge to the reef, from terrestrial to marine ecosystems, from landscape to seascape.

Unfortunately, the larger parts of IFL in Indonesia have been lost and are seriously threatened. Apart from Papua, IFL are mostly isolated in the remote areas where they are not suitable for human economic activities. Thanks to the nature of the terrain the remaining IFL are protected against the endless anthropogenic pressures.

Forest environmental services are often undervalued by the government. It is of general understanding that natural forest ecosystems provide various products and services, but licenses for forest use are mostly given for a single product (timber). The role of the government regarding forest management is limited to ruling and issuing licenses, therefore forests are mostly seen in terms of their official designation rather than the actual landscape and its ecological services.

The state has also failed to keep an eye on the working performance of natural forest concession holders (HPH/IUPHHK-HA). Officially natural forest concession holders ( HPH) are only allowed to harvest the incremental (growth) yield of an ancient forest, but in practice the whole forest is exploited and often depleted far before the end of the concession period.

As a result the largest part of the state natural production forest has already lost their cover and intactness. IFL nowadays can only be found in Protection Forests/PF (Hutan Lindung) and Conservation Forests (CF). The former was managed by the district government (recently transferred to the province government/Law No. 23/2014). Unfortunately, district governments usually have used PF as a free capital for political compensation.

A study conducted by the London School of Economics entitled ‘The Political Economy of Deforestation in the Tropics’ shows that under the decentralization policy, the proliferation of districts in several provinces with extensive forests has triggered the acceleration of deforestation. The analysis of satellite imagery proves that illegal logging in protection forest increased dramatically in the two years leading up to district elections.

CF, which is directly managed by the central government through their technical implementing units at regional level is in no better condition. They are mostly subject to deforestation and encroachment due to the expansion of monocultures and infrastructure development. Encroachment is often compounded with other problems such as illegal logging and poaching. In the meantime, problems have become entrenched due to the economic and political interests associated with the use of resources within CF boundaries.

Considering the above, which way forward to save the remaining IFL in this country?

First, the role of the government should shift from ruling and licensing behind the desks into intensive ground supervisions and technical assistance, the government should act as an honest broker and facilitator for forest actors and stakeholders. As such, the strong government spirits to establish a Forest Management Unit (KPH) as evidenced by the National Development Planning Agency, BAPPENAS, jargon ‘No KPH No Budget’ should be materialized. Although KPH was established nearly ten years ago it is still not functional due to some barriers in the policy structure within the government system. The government should be in position to provide an enabling condition so that KPH becomes functional.

Second, the government should map the remaining IFL and define them as essential ecosystems to be protected against unsustainable land use practices; the rule should be included in the revision of Law No. 5/1990 on Protection of Natural Resources and its Ecosystems which is part of the 2016’s House of Representatives (DPR) national legislation programme.

Third, the government should develop incentive and disincentive mechanisms for conservation of IFL by the local governments, the private sector and the community.

The discourse on Conservation Districts (Kabupaten Konservasi) from the early 2000s is worth to be reviewed. Protection of High Conservation Values (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) in production areas by the private sector (oil palm, forest plantation and natural forest concessions) should be rewarded and its implementation should be monitored. Encourage and enable indigenous and local communities who make use of the state forest areas within the Social Forestry Program to develop sustainable land use initiatives which lead to IFL protection.

Actions to protect IFL are now or never. Now is a decision time for the government to develop realistic and measurable targets to save the remaining IFL, before a total loss of its ecological functions is irreversible!