Roads to Ruin

GPS: 4°24’50.2″N, 97°30’29.3″E –

The best science from forest ecologists aligns with centuries of lived history by frontline forest communities to reveal the single biggest threat to healthy forest ecosystems: roads. Just about every other cause of deforestation, from logging, mining and plantation development to invasive species and wildlife poaching, are secondary wounds which inevitably follow the initial intrusion created by road construction. Put simply, roads are a death knell to the benefits of biodiversity, clean water, carbon storage and sustainable livelihoods provided by natural forests worldwide.


There are instances where road building projects can achieve a balance between economic development and environmental stewardship, for instance in connecting rural farmers to urban markets for their goods. But in frontier forest regions like Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, roads are the first cut into a pristine landscape that begins a predictable cascade of damage, leading inexorably to the unravelling of the area’s ecological integrity and ultimately to harmful impacts on the human communities downstream. Roads are a one-way direction of human development from which forests almost certainly never recover. The only certain way to avert this all-too familiar tragedy is to stop the building of roads in the first place.

New road scar into primary lowland forest, Leuser Ecosystem

This is why the recent documentation by RAN field investigators of active road building and logging in the concession of palm oil company PT Tegas Nusantara in the north-eastern lowland rainforests within the globally important Leuser Ecosystem is so alarming. The images in this post, from March of this year, show the fresh, muddy scars resulting from the hasty bulldozing of new logging roads inside a palm oil concession in a forest area known to be home to endangered species, such as the Sumatran elephants, and water catchment for communities.

This case highlights a troubling trend of new road development in the Leuser Ecosystem. There a currently ten new road proposals being considered, or in worst cases being constructed, in pristine stands of rainforests in which companies seek permits for palm oil concessions in order to allow them to punch in roads and gain profit from the logging of intact forest ecosystems, then using the profits to fund further industrial incursions into the forest.

Everyone can agree on the importance of creating and supporting economic opportunities for local communities in the province of Aceh but we need to also be sure to do our part in ensuring that our demand for palm oil and other forest products doesn’t drive new roads and the fragmentation of the last intact forest ecosystems on the planet. The logging and clearing of forests shows that to date the biggest buyers of palm oil from this region have failed to enforce the moratorium on forest destruction. Join us as we demand the enforcement of a moratorium on forest destruction in the Leuser Ecosystem


Read more Leuser Watch posts