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published One Step Closer: Saving the Leuser Ecosystem in Blog 2014-10-02 11:21:08 -0700

One Step Closer: Saving the Leuser Ecosystem

This week an important milestone was reached in the effort to save portions of the precious Leuser Ecosytsem in Indonesia.

Covering over 6 million acres of intact lowland and mountainous rainforests The Leuser is considered by many scientists and conservationists to be among the most important forests left in Southeast Asia.  It is home to the densest population of orangutans left anywhere, and is the last place on earth where orangutans, tigers, elephants, rhinos and sun bears share the same habitat.

This fragile and irreplaceable ecosystem and the extraordinary life it supports are imminently threatened by industrial development. One of the biggest threats has been the expansion of illegal palm oil plantations within the boundaries of the Leuser Protected Ecosystem. However, local organizations and communities have been fighting back by working to physically remove 25,000 acres of illegal plantations from within the boundaries of Leuser.

The Leuser is also home to carbon-rich peatland swamps, where a consistent layer of water keeps the carbon in the ground and out of the atmosphere.  However thanks to the deforestation from the expansion of palm oil plantations, these swamplands are being systematically drained -- releasing a virtual carbon bomb into the atmosphere and making Indonesia one of the biggest carbon polluters on the planet.

But there is hope.  

Protect-an-Acre grant recipients Leuser Conservation Forum (FKL) -- led by 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Rudi Putra, and Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh -- recently relayed the news to us that they have been able to convince the local government in Aceh Tamiang to participate in a joint effort to physically remove the illegal plantations in order to allow the natural forest to recover.

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This is great news because previous work by these organizations removing over 1,000 acres of these illegal plantations resulted in the return of wildlife, including elephants, to those areas within a very short time period. Communities that live near the Leuser Protected Ecosystem also benefit from this project because the restoration of deforested hillsides will help reduce the threat of flooding and mudslides. Now that local government officials are onboard the remaining plantations targeted by their efforts can be removed.

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This week a ceremony was held to begin the work of cutting down the remaining illegal, non-native crops and to launch the restoration process. The LLeuser Conservation Forum (FKL) and Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh teams also sent huge thank you to the RAN community for supporting their work.

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 You too can help support projects like these that help local community-led efforts to protect rainforests around the world by supporting RAN’s Protect-an-Acre program.

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U’wa Indigenous Community’s Defense of Sacred Lands

 

The Climate Action Fund was established by RAN in 2009 to award grants to frontline community groups that are fighting to prevent fossil fuels from being extracted. CAF is a grassroots alternative to carbon offset programs. Instead of purchasing carbon credits, funds are used to empower frontline communities to keep fossil fuels in the ground where they belong.

The U'wa are an Indigenous community of more than 6,000 individuals who have lived in the cloud forests of the Colombian Andes for thousands of years. At the heart of their culture is the belief that the land which has sustained them for centuries is sacred, and that they exist to protect that land.

Their ten-plus year international struggle in defense of their life, land, and culture successfully forced Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum to abandon plans to drill for oil on U’wa territory in 2002. However, the U'wa people and territory are once again threatened by the Colombian state oil and gas firm Ecopetrol, which this year has intensified exploration activities within U’wa ancestral territory.

In late March, guerilla forces, engaged in a decades-long conflict with the Colombian government, bombed the Cano Limon oil pipeline – which runs through part of the U’wa territory transporting 80,000 barrels daily – creating toxic pollution that caused severe health issues for several U’wa individuals. The U’wa, exercising their rights within their own legal territory, demanded a direct dialogue with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos that led to an agreement to allow the pipeline to be repaired after a tense 40-day stand-off.

As part of the agreement, Ecopetrol suspended its immediate plans to drill for gas at the Magallanes site that is situated just north of the U’wa reserve, but which falls within the ancestral territory of three U’wa communities.

A Climate Action Fund (CAF) grant from RAN was given at this time to support the U’wa continuing to work in conjunction with allies to raise awareness within Colombia, including among U’wa communities, and around the world to safeguard their rights, territory and lives.

A recent statement by the High Council of the U’wa Indigenous Association of Colombia details the activities of the U’wa in defense of their land and rights. The emergency Climate Action Fund grant was given towards supporting these activities:

For the U'wa people, 2014 has been characterized by a reinvigoration of our struggle against extractive projects within our ancestral territories. We have carried out internal actions like community meetings, assemblies, gatherings with traditional authorities, cultural events, group gatherings and spiritual orientations. At the same time, we have carried out actions to bring to light the resource extraction problem in both national and international scenarios. We have reactivated our support network of organizations that defend the environment and human rights and we have placed the U'wa territory issue on the agenda of the Colombian national government.

The U'wa held several meetings with the national government. In each meeting the U’wa emphasized the urgent need for the government to effectively guarantee their territorial rights and cancel all natural resource extraction projects within their ancestral territory, including the Magallanes gas exploration project.

The U’wa Traditional Authorities and Councils (ASOU’WA) announced in a recent statement that the outcome of this process is that Ecopetrol is disassembling and removing drilling equipment associated with cancelling plans to move forward with the Magallanes project. The consistent effort on the part of the U'wa and their supporters has stopped a project that seemed inevitable just a few months ago, although it will not be a permanent victory until Ecopetrol cancels plans for the project outright.

The statement goes on to call this a “step toward the continual protection of our mother nature in her entirety, toward safeguarding the integrity of our ancient people and guaranteeing the physical and cultural permanence of the members who make up all of our communities.”

ASOU’WA also expressed thanks to “all the unconditional support offered by different local, regional, national, and international organizations that accompany our dignified and just struggle in defense of the environment and the U’wa nation’s ancestral culture.”

RAN is proud to have supported the U’wa in their ongoing struggle to protect their lives, culture and ancestral territory in the cloud forest they call home.

 

 Uwa Community


RAN Supports Indigenous Youth In Fight Against Invasive Logging

On the night of December 2, 2002, with temperatures below zero, two sisters and young Indigenous mothers from the Grassy Narrows First Nation drove from their reserve, located in the southern fringe of the vast Boreal Forest in northern Ontario, to a logging road just a few miles from their home and felled trees over the road to protest unwanted logging on their land. Their protest was the spark that ignited their small community of 1,000 to launch the longest standing logging blockade in North America, which continues to this day.

In June 2008, the people of Grassy Narrows celebrated victory when AbitibiBowater (now Resolute Forest Products), one of the largest paper companies in the world, agreed to stop logging on 1 million acres of Grassy Narrows traditional territory in the Whiskey Jack Forest. However, in late 2013, Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources finalized and approved a new 10-year Forest Management Plan, which again calls for clear-cutting forests on Grassy Narrows territory without consent.

To help address this latest threat, RAN’s Protect-an-Acre program is supporting a project being led by Asubpeeschoseewagong Oshkaadiziwag Kagobewat-- a community-led group whose name translates to Grassy Narrows Youth Organization. GNYO is a new organization formed by Indigenous youth and have been participating in the Grassy Narrows blockade for years and learning skills at annual youth gatherings where Elders have taught traditional skills and knowledge about how to use the land and to help reclaim Anishinaabe culture and continue the struggle against unwanted logging. Some GNYO members were not yet teenagers when RAN began supporting these efforts by the Grassy Narrows community.

This grant is supporting the Save Keys Lake Campaign, which has the goal of removing the Keys Lake cut block from the logging plan and to have it declared a protected area. This campaign is intended to serve as a catalyst for GNYO to build confidence and capacity. In planning and running the campaign, a new group of Indigenous youth are getting the opportunity to put into place various traditional organizing models, build relationships in the community, continue to learn traditional skills from Elders and to establish themselves as leaders in their community.

This campaign is part of the overall “trapline strategy” being employed by Grassy Narrows, which seeks to combine land protection and cultural resurgence as a single process through building traditional structures on family traplines to demonstrate ongoing use of land throughout Grassy Narrows territory. The big picture goal is to leverage the Save Keys Lake Campaign together with other community-led efforts in order to force the outright cancellation of the 10-year Forest Management Plan.

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