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With the arrival of Dr. Kuswata Kartawinata as director in March 1998, CIFORs work in Bulungan Research Forest gathered momentum. The site, which consists of 321,000 hectares of prime forest land in the Bulungan District of East Kalimantan (Borneo), was designated by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry in 1995 to serve as a place for testing practices of sustainable forest management. The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and Frances CIRAD-ForÍt are major partners in the project.
In the latter half of the year, as many as 30 scientists were working at one time in the area, and the project received a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to support the work of Indonesian graduate students working at Bulungan. Plans to build a semi-permanent CIFOR field station in the forest also got underway.
The Bulungan research site is covered almost entirely by primary forest and is considered particularly rich in biodiversity. Some of the forest is under protection, but a state-owned logging company, INHUTANI II, has been doing selective logging since 1997. The forest is also under growing pressure from other commercial enterprises, including coal mining and oil palm plantations. Local people inhabiting the area, mainly Punan and Kenyah rice farmers, practice extensive agroforestry and harvest a variety of non-timber forest products.
Multidisciplinary research by CIFOR and its many institutional partners is exploring the impacts of these activities on the ecology of the forest and the well-being of the local people.
In 1998, CIFOR issued "Reduced-Impact Logging Guidelines for Lowland and Dipterocarp Forests in Indonesia," which will form the basis of RIL experiments at Bulungan. The guidelines are not final, but a set of working hypotheses to be tested and revised as necessary according to the research results. CIFOR researchers hypothesise that adoption of the techniques should reduce disturbance to soil and vegetation by as much as 50 percent over conventional logging practices, while reducing logging costs by at least 15 percent.
Workshops were held to train INHUTANI II managers in forest inventory and topographic assessment techniques, while workers learned RIL-compatible directional felling methods and skid trail construction. Inventories were done in areas where initial experiments will be carried out, topographic maps were produced and a logging plan was developed.
Research at Bulungan will include an
array of biodiversity studies. Activities in 1998 included GIS imaging done as the basis
for developing a comprehensive database and a digital elevation model of the entire
Bulungan research area to facilitate ongoing research. The Wildlife Conservation Society
did a pre-logging biodiversity assessment of the area. The information was used to compile
the Bulungan Ethnobotany Handbook,
CIFORs social science research at Bulungan builds on a considerable body of anthropological data on East Kalimantan collected over several decades by a host of international and regional institutions that include the World Wide Fund for Nature-Indonesia; Mulawarman University in Samarinda, Indonesia; and the Indonesian Forestry Research and Development Agency (FORDA). Much of this work is being done in the vicinity of Long Loreh, a Dayak village near the site of the reduced-impact logging experiments. Surveys done in 1998, as part of a multi-pronged CIFOR effort to develop social science methods effective in assessing human well-being, added significantly to baseline information about residents of Long Loreh and their relationship to the forest. In October, CIFOR co-sponsored a workshop that looked at possible ways of formalising local peoples rights to the forest land they inhabit.
Additional areas of research focus include shifting patterns of land use and the role that non-timber forest products (NTFPs) play in meeting the needs of local people. A socioeconomic history of the Bulungan area that is now being written, based in part on archival records in the Netherlands, will help determine the direction of these and other studies.