People and the Forest

Guinness World Records declared in 2008 that Indonesia had the world’s fastest deforestation rate. Borneo alone has lost more than 50 percent of its original forest cover; half of that loss occurred in the past 20 years due to logging, mining, fire, development of palm oil plantations and other habitat-destroying human activities.

Stopping deforestation throughout the tropics has become one of the global conservation movement’s top priorities. Deforestation’s repercussions go far beyond the loss of endemic wildlife and the displacement and impoverishment of local people. Vanishing species leave holes in the web of life that ultimately sustains all humans. And deforestation arguably causes more damage to the climate than any other human activity.

But deforestation is not a simple problem, and there is no simple solution. In Borneo, questions about whether to conserve forests, burn them for farmland, or log them and plant the land with oil palms are tied up in complex cultural and economic considerations. While conservation has long been science driven, success will ultimately come down to changing the way people relate to nature.

These images depict some of the social complexities of conservation along the border of the newly established Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve in Indonesian Borneo.

Slide Show: The People of Lamandau River

Click to view the slide show.

In March 2009 photographer Jason Houston traveled with writer William deBuys to Central Kalimantan on Indonesian Borneo to document several communities along the border of the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve. The team was traveling on assignment for Rare, a Virginia-based non-governmental organization with programs throughout the developing tropics, to depict the social complexities facing international conservation work as context for the organization’s grassroots Pride program.

The individuals they photographed and interviewed ranged from village leaders and handicraft artists to palm oil plantation workers and farmers to reserve rangers to conservationists. By attempting to understand the social and environmental complexity of the communities living in these tropical forests, this project challenges conventional practices in conservation in the developing world that prioritize biodiversity and preservation of habitat ahead of people and showcases the role local communities can play as active participants—even leaders—in realizing sustainable solutions and creating models that will help shape the future of our planet. 

Photographs by Jason Houston Stories by William deBuys

Around the Web

Visit the Campaign for Sustainable Forest Management/Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve, Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia website to learn more.