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.
Jason Houston is a documentary photographer, filmmaker, multimedia producer and photo editor dedicated to stories at the intersection of social and environmental concerns. To see more of his work, visit jasonhouston.com.
A version of this image gallery originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Momentum magazine, Ensia’s predecessor, as “People and the Forest.”