Ruslan Sangadji, The
It was around 6:00 a.m. and most residents of Ngata Toro in Donggala regency,
Said Tolao, 53, however, was already set to leave his house. In worn boots, a hat and long-sleeved T-shirt emblazoned with the words Kader Lingkungan (Environment Cadre), he was headed for the forest. Two sheathed knives adorned his waist.
Asked about forest destruction in the
"The central government has to empower local people by raising their environmental awareness," the forest ranger said passionately.
"Once local people realize the importance of protecting the forests, they will not destroy it and will join hands in guarding the forest," added Said, who was born in Ngata Toro.
Perhaps it was this awareness that prompted Said to take on the traditional post of tondo ngata, or village policeman in charge of protecting some 22,950 hectares of forest in the Lore Lindu National Park (TNLL).
"For me, this is not merely a task, but also a calling," said Said, who was elected village policeman during an assembly of community leaders in 1998.
Since then, Said, who also commands an eight-person team, patrols the protected forests from one end to the other nearly every day.
"By patrolling the forest I know if any local people or outsiders cut trees in protected forest," he said, adding that in one day he and his team traverse more than a quarter of the 22,950-hectare protected forest.
He said when he goes into the forest, he brings no food. "If I get hungry, I just suck my thumbs. That knowledge has been handed down to me from my ancestors."
Local people divide the forest into four different types. The first is called wanangkiki or moss forest, where no human activity is allowed. The second is wana or virgin forest, which serves as a water catchment area. Local people may collect resin, rattan, and fragrant or medicinal plants from virgin forest, and they may hunt animals or fish in forest rivers, but they may not cultivate the land.
The third is pangale or restored forest. This refers to forests that were once cleared for cultivation, either for dry farming or rice fields, but have since been restored to their original state. The fourth is oma, which are forests that are often cleared to plant coffee, cocoa or other plants.
As a ranger, Said said, he has to ensure that nobody violates the forest or land policies.
One day in 2001, he said, trees were cut in an area customarily declared as a no-logging forest.
"I heard their chain saws roaring from one corner of the forest and so I rushed over to them. Along the way, I fell into a ravine, but I got up quickly and continued running. When I arrived, I saw four people sawing trees.
"They told me they were from
Said briskly told the illegal loggers not to harvest trees in protected forests, but the four paid him no heed. After a long debate, they agreed to meet with local leaders at Ngata Toro, where they underwent a 'trial'. The community leaders found the four guilty of illegal logging, but freed them on the grounds that they were proxies acting on orders from timber companies. They were warned not to harvest in
Thanks to Said and his team, forests in Ngata Toro's customary areas in the
"I'm sure that will not happen in Ngata Toro," said Said confidently.
For all his hard work, the
In 2006, Said received an environmental award from the Ministry of Forestry and a Kalpataru award from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
He was not impressed, however.
"I don't need an award. All I need is for the forest to remain undamaged," he said.