See below for a piece from Reforestation Volunteer Adam Miller.
I always say that ASRI’s two reforestation sites are like two children: Laman Satong, our older reforestation site that had the fire last year, is like the difficult child that needs constant love and attention in order to thrive. In contrast, Sedahan, our younger reforestation site, is the precocious child that constantly delivers amazing surprises, unasked.
Every time I go there, I am amazed at how tall the trees have grown in less than two years. The site's peatland soil is far more fertile than the degraded, dry soil at Laman Satong. Many of the planted trees are already over two meters tall. One species in particular, petai (stink bean) has been consistently shooting up like a rocket wherever we plant it.
"We need to plant more of this!" I keep telling the team. They laugh back at me, "But it’s hard to find seeds! The community loves to eat the beans and collects them all before we can plant them!"
Luckily, we happen to have a health clinic that can solve these types of problems. We raised the price of petai seedlings in our list of non-cash payment options. A patient can now cover their entire medical bill with just a few stink bean tree seedlings. (I hope we get a flood of them.)
Also, not only is the site growing well, but it is legitimately changing the worldviews of the community members who work there. Many are former illegal loggers that have been tasked with returning this small piece of the world back into forest. Our site coordinator Yayat says that the workers have told him they can't bear to think of cutting down a tree ever again after their work on the reforestation site. And believe me, they are extremely proud of what they have accomplished. They really want Sedahan to become an environmental education site so that others can see what the site has become.
Last year, we asked them to replace the old bridge into the site with one safe for school-children to cross. They responded by building an elaborate bamboo bridge with two sets of benches. Benches! The old bridge was so precarious that I used to leave all of my electronic devices at the clinic assuming that I would fall off the bridge into the river. The gorgeous new bridge is stable enough to host 8-person photo ops.
"I had almost nothing to do with it!" Yayat told me at the time. “It was all their idea!” And by the way it took them only 2 days to build.
The workers were also instrumental in stopping further land clearing. In previous years, one community member cleared the 2 ha area next to the site for farming. With the constant coming and going of the reforestation workers, he became afraid of getting reported to the police. So he stopped clearing land. He didn't plant any rice. Instead, he planted durian and rubber tree seedlings. That piece of land will also become a forest again.
Lastly and most incredibly, the site is already fulfilling its initial purpose -- providing a corridor for orangutans to cross between forest fragments and the main body of the park. A few days ago, our newest conservation volunteer Adam came back from a day of cleaning out weeds at the site with news: the workers found orangutan nests. Three of them. He went back the next day to take some pictures. Sorry, he said. There are actually four nests. FOUR!
The Sedahan site continues to remind us that sometimes all the love, sweat and bug bites that go into reforestation work can yield the elusive results we hope for – even a few years earlier than expected. In fact, I just heard today that one of the Forest Guardians visited the last active logger in the community where the Sedahan site is located. The logger is ready to stop. But he wants a job.
He wants to become a reforestation worker.
Sedahan Jaya represents an ideal site for restoration due to its mosaic of remaining tree stands that provide the necessary microclimate for new seedlings, its crucial location in an important corridor for wildlife, and its proximity to local communities that depend on ecosystem services that forests provide. However, after just a few days working at Sedahan Jaya, it is difficult to measure what has more impact, the rapid regrowth of the forest or the vivacious team of individuals who are currently managing the site.
Several times a year a team of ten to thirteen local men gather at the site to help plant, clean, and manage the site. As with most tropical areas, reforestation sites are plagued by invasive grass species that exhibit fast growth that often inhibits the survival of rainforest seedlings. Therefore, these grasses and other nuisance species must be cleared. Despite long days in the hot sun and hours bent over with just a stick and a hand machete for clearing, one would be hard pressed to find a group of men who enjoy their work more.
Although there are thousands of seedlings many members of the team remember when and who planted each individual. Moreover, there knowledge and ability to identify local trees rivals that of even the most well-trained ecologists.
Interestingly, the majority of the individuals who dedicate their time and effort to reforestation at Sedahan Jaya were once loggers, many of them illegally taking wood from the Gunung Palung National Park. However, through their involvement with ASRI and the reforestation program, they are now dedicated to conservation.
It seems that the team’s hard work and dedication has paid off. Recently, four orangutan nests were found at Sedahan Jaya. Every night orangutans will make a nest by tying together branches from two trees and making a bed of leaves. These four nests could have been made by different individuals, or the same individual who constantly returned to the site. What is important is that this shows that reforestation works. That a team of dedicated individuals, no matter what the background, can take a plot of degraded land and restores its value.