An Emergency Report prepared for the Coalition to Save Tripa and Partners

Current Status of Tripa Peat Swamp Destruction and Fires

An Emergency Report prepared for the Coalition to Save Tripa and Partners

by

Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari, Medan, Sumatera Utara

27 March 2012

 

Summary of Issues and Findings

The pace of destruction of the Tripa peat swamps in Aceh has escalated dramatically in the last few weeks, possibly as the companies take advantage of Aceh’s status as having an “interim’ Governor.  We are extremely alarmed that if the current pace of destruction is allowed to continue, there will be no HCVF forest and no more Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutan, or any other protected wildlife, in Tripa by the end of 2012.

The loss of Tripa’s remaining HCVF forests will also result in dire long term environmental consequences for the region’s human population, with ever increasing incidences of serious flooding and drought due the complete loss of critical hydrological and other ecosystem functions previously provided by the peat swamps.

Satellite imagery from December 26th, 2011, clearly shows less than 13,000 ha of Tripa’s former 60,000 ha of forest remained at that time. Moreover, much of the forest was already highly fragmented, with the largest remaining block measuring less than 8,400 ha, and only one other remaining block covering more than 1,000 ha. Since then, more recent land clearing for oil palm and the widespread use of fire has reduced the forest cover even further.

From 2009 to 2011 over 5,000 ha of peat swamp forest was completely destroyed. This means that circa 100 Sumatran orangutans also perished, either killed directly in the conversion process or currently dying long lingering deaths due to starvation and malnutrition. A few “lucky” survivors of this process are probably also still being kept as illegal pets in the vicinity and several have already been confiscated by the authorities.

Right now the forest is being destroyed even faster. Between the 20th and 24thof March this year, just 5 days, there were no less than 87 fire hotspots, meaning major fires detectable by satellite, in 3 of Tripa’s oil palm concessions; PT SPS2, (formerly PT Astra Agro Lestari), PT Kallista Alam (a company currently on trial for legal infringements), and PT Dua Perkasa Alam. Such a high number of hotspots in so short a time (5 days) represents the highest intensity of fire hotspots recorded in a 5-day period in Tripa since satellite monitoring of Indonesia’s fire hot spots began in late 2000,  higher even than the infamous fires in the PT Kallista Alam concession in 2009. The overall area of land devastated so far by these latest fires alone is at least 2,800 ha.

What is more, by far the majority of these hotspots occurred on the deepest peat within Tripa, where numerous peat depth measurements have recorded well over 5 metres.

The number of Sumatran orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Malayan sun bears and other endangered and protected wildlife, many of which are peat swamp specialist species found in no other habitat type, that have perished in these fires is immeasurable. Nevertheless, based on knowledge of orangutan densities in Tripa and other peat swamp areas on the west coast of Aceh, it is estimated that the number killed in recent months must be at least approaching 100, if not even more.

With the continued encroachment and draining of the remaining forests, we are now in a situation where a prolonged dry period and further indiscriminate burning could easily spread quickly through the whole of Tripa’s remaining forest in just a matter of weeks, or even days, completely eliminating the remaining wildlife, including the last couple of hundred orangutans.

The use of fire for land clearing of peatlands is quite clearly illegal in Indonesia, and the concession owners, the companies themselves, are legally accountable for all such occurrences within their concession areas. However, to date, not one single prosecution as ever been brought against any of the oil palm concessions in Tripa, despite the fact that 707 fire hot spots have been recorded by satellite in these concessions since 2001.

Unless action is IMMEDIATELY taken to uphold the numerous national laws that: protect the Leuser Ecosystem; protect deep peatlands from destruction; forbid the use of fire for land clearing; and  protect Indonesia’s endangered species, Indonesia’s international promises to reduce its carbon emissions from primary forest and peat land degradation and destruction (REDD) will be confirmed as utterly worthless, bringing international trust in forest and peatland governance within Indonesia to an all-time ‘embarrassing’ low.

 RECENT DATA ANALYSES

Recent Deforestation in Tripa Peat Swamps

The most recent publicly accessible cloud-free image of the Tripa peat swamps is a Landsat 7 image from December 26th 2011 (less than 3 months ago; figure 1). This shows that only 12,267 ha of Tripa’s original 60,000 ha of forest cover remains, and that much of what does remain is already fragmented and degraded, by the continual draining of the swamps in surrounding areas.

Comparing the above image with satellite imagery from 2009, nearly 5,100 ha of peat land forest have been lost in just 2 years, virtually all of it destroyed by oil palm companies. Today, the largest single block of contiguous forest is only 8,359 ha, with only one other fragment over 1,000 ha.

Any Sumatran orangutans trapped in the few remaining small fragments of forest are now effectively refugees, of forest that no longer exists, but are nevertheless also doomed to die a lingering death from to starvation, if they are not killed or captured beforehand. It is now almost certain that less than 200 of Tripa’s former several thousand orangutans are surviving in Tripa, and given the current pace of destruction even their plight is now in immediate jeopardy. It is now extremely likely, unless something can be implemented IMMEDIATELY to halt this tragedy, the surviving orangutan population in the Tripa peat swamps, one of a number of UNEP/UNESCO Great Ape Survival Partnerships’ global priority sites for Great Ape Conservation, will finally be exterminated before the end of 2012. It will have taken just 22 years to exterminate since the first oil palm concession in Tripa was granted to PT Cemerlang Abadi in 1990.

Figure 1: Remaining areas of the forest, forest lost between 2009 and Dec. 2011, the Leuser Ecosytem, and oilpalm concessions plotted on Landsat 7 image (26/12/2011)

Latest Fire Data

On March 20th this year the local communities in Tripa and air travellers over the region began frantically reporting many extremely large and ‘out of control’ fires in Tripa. The following provides a summary of the data from ground level, from the air, and from satellite fire hotspot data. Figure 2 shows the location of fire hotspots between the 19thand 25thof March 2011, detected by the MODIS Aqua and Terra satellites. A total of 92 fire hotspots were recorded in several of the oil palm concessions between March 19th and 25th, as shown in the following two tables:

Concession

No of fires

Date

No of fires

PT Cemerlang Abadi

2

19/3

2

PT Dua Perkasa Lestari

9

20/3

4

PT Kallista Alam (new)

8

21/3

16

PT Surya Panen Subur 2

72

22/3

24

none

1

23/3

12

Grand Total

92

24/3

31

25/3

3

Grand Total

92

Clearly, most fires were recorded on the 24th of March, but based on field reports these fires were all on-going  on the 25th March as well, but were probably undetected by the satellites due to heavy cloud cover. By far the bulk of the fire hotspots were in the PT Surya Panen Subur 2 concession (formerly belonging to PT Astra Agro Lestari).  PT Surya Panen Subur 2 not only has the largest number and greatest spread of fires, but the area of the fires is also one of the deepest peat areas in the whole of the Tripa peat swamps, estimated to have an average depth of over 4 m (see peat depth sampling points on map).

Ironically, all the fire hotspots shown are within the Leuser Ecosystem, since 2008 a National Strategic Area for Environmental Protection[1].

Interim burn scars were measured for the 2 main concentrations of hotspots. The larger burn scar (2,454 ha) lies primarily in the PT Surya Panen Subur 2 concession, while the smaller burn scar (408 ha) is primarily within the PT Dua Perkasa Lestari concession. Six outlying hotspots were excluded from the generation of the burn scars. The total final burn scar from these fires can only really be determined when all the fires have been extinguished, and remote sensing data can be cross-checked in the field.

Figure 2: Fire hotspots recorded between 19/3 and 25/3/2012 and projected burn scars, plotted on the remaining peat land forest and oil palm concessions in Tripa. Also shown are peat  depth sampling points.

Historical Fire Hotspot Data

All recorded fire hotspots in the Tripa region since 2001 are shown in Figure 3. It is clear that the bulk of the hotspots are clumped into a few particular areas, although the recent fires represent the widest spread of simultaneous fires yet seen.

Figure 3: All fires spots recorded in the Tripa region between 2001 and March 26th, 2012.

Fire hotspot data collected since the satellites became operational in late 2000 (see table below), clearly show that 2009 was by far the worst year for fires in the Tripa peatlands. However, particularly alarming is that after just 3 months, 2012 is already ranked number two in the annual tally, with 111 fires recorded already.

Fire Hotspots in Oil Palm Concessions, 2001 to March 26, 2012

Year

none

ex PT PGSA

 Cemerlang Abadi

Dua Perkasa Lestari

Gelora Sawita Makmur

Kallista Alam

Kallista Alam (new)

Surya Panen Subur 2

Grand Total

% total

2001

1

7

9

2

2

21

3.0%

2002

3

10

2

15

2.1%

2003

1

1

0.1%

2004

3

1

2

6

0.8%

2005

1

2

2

5

0.7%

2006

3

8

11

2

24

3.4%

2007

2

3

4

1

10

1.4%

2008

6

9

15

2

13

19

11

75

10.6%

2009

25

95

51

9

9

117

16

322

45.5%

2010

8

2

1

20

4

1

36

5.1%

2011

5

17

6

22

5

13

2

11

81

11.5%

2012

2

4

10

1

8

86

111

15.7%

Grand Total

52

130

81

44

56

196

16

132

707

100.0%

% total

7.4%

18.4%

11.5%

6.2%

7.9%

27.7%

2.3%

18.7%

100.0%

Historically, PT Kallista Alam has the worst record of all the oil palm concessionaires, with nearly 28% of all Tripa’s fire hotspots recorded within their concession, and a peak of 117 fires in 2009. Until this year there were relatively few fires recorded in the PT Surya Panen Subur 2 concession, suggesting a deliberate policy by the company for rapid expansion of conversion at the expense of the remaining peatland forests. The third highest number of fires are in the ex PT Patriot Guna Sakti Abadi (PT PGSA) in Aceh Barat Daya. This concession was never actually formalized, and after the Aceh peace agreement was parcelled out by the local government, purportedly to ex-combatants. It is understood that many of the small parcels have since been bought and consolidated into larger blocks by local government officials and business people.

Carbon Emissions

Based on the burn scars and existing data on the carbon content of the peat and forests in Tripa it is possible to  estimates the carbon emissions from these last 5 days of fires, and their potential monetary value. In order to ensure estimates were conservative (i.e. minimum estimates) calculations were based on the following assumptions:-

  • The above ground carbon content of the felled forest areas used for calculations was just 50 t C/ha, less than half the lowest recorded value for the Tripa peat swamp forests (109 t C/ha).
  • A burned peat depth of only 5cm (representing just 20 t C/ha), whilst the depth of peat actually burned in fires is probably much greater.

Given the highly conservative values used, and the size of the burn scars, the total amount of carbon lost in just the last several days is considered to be well in excess of 200,000 tonnes, which if valued at US$10 per tonne, represents a loss of over US$ 2 million. Of this loss, over US$1.7 occurred primarily in the PT Surya Panen Subur 2 concession, and nearly US$300,000 primarily in the PT Dua Perkasa Lestari concession.

We propose that these figures ought to represent the minimum fines that should be levied on these companies for this illegal burning of peat land.

Total Carbon Emissions (t)

Value of Carbon Emissions (US$)

PT SPS 2 PT DPL Total PT SPS 2 PT DPL Total
Carbon t/ha (2454 ha) (408 ha) (2862 ha) (2454 ha) (408 ha) (2862 ha)
Above ground 50 122,700 20,400 143,100 1,227,000 204,000 1,431,000
Below ground (5cm) 20 49,080 8,160 57,240 490,800 81,600 572,400
Total 70 171,780 28,560 200,340 1,717,800 285,600 2,003,400

[1] As listed in Appendix X of Government Regulation No.26/2008 on the National Spatial Plan (PP 26/2008 tentang Tata Ruang Nasional, Lampiran X)

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About endoftheicons

The Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia is in grave danger. Local politicians want to allow logging, mining and palm oil plantations in this vulnerable area. Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers are already hanging on by a thread. They will not survive the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem.

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