JAKARTA | Wed Mar 28, 2012 3:14pm BST
(Reuters) – Forest fires and land clearing by palm oil firms could kill off within weeks about 200 orangutans in a forest in western Indonesia, an environmental group said on Wednesday.
The orangutans, part of a population of around 6,600 on Sumatra island, used to live in a lush forest and peatland region called Rawa Tripa on the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province. But more than two-thirds of the area has been divided up into palm oil concessions, said the Coalition to Save Tripa.
Graham Usher, a member of the coalition and a landscape protection specialist, said satellite images showed forest fires had been burning in Tripa since last week, and if allowed to continue they could wipe out orangutans already forced onto the edge of remaining forests.
“If there is any prolonged dry spell, which is quite likely, there’s a very good chance that the whole piece of forest and everything in it, so that’s orangutans, sun bears, tigers, and all the other protected species in it, will disappear in a few weeks and will be gone permanently,” he told a news conference.
The palm oil industry has expanded to make Indonesia the world’s top producer and exporter of the edible oil, used to make good ranging from cooking oil and biodiesel to biscuits and soap to feed growing Asian consumer demand.
Deforestation has threatened animals like the Sumatran tiger and Javan rhino and pushed up carbon dioxide emissions. The Bali tiger and the Java tiger have disappeared in the last 70 years.
A two-year moratorium on new permits to clear primary forests came into effect in Indonesia last year, part of a $1 billion deal with Norway to cut emissions and slow expansion of plantations. But the moratorium was breached in Aceh on its first days, an environmental group has said.
The last Aceh permit for palm oil was issued by former Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf in August last year to PT Kallista Alam, prompting environmental group Walhi to file a legal suit against Yusuf. A court verdict is expected next week.
“If Kallista Alam win the case they will burn it and that whole bit of forest will disappear and we can say goodbye to the orangutan of Tripa peat swamps,” Usher said.
Kallista Alam could not be reached for comment.
CRITICALLY-endangered orangutans in a protected area of Indonesia will be wiped out by the end of the year if land clearing is not stopped, a coalition of environmental groups warned today.
The government must immediately halt the clearance of forest in the 13,000-hectare peat swamps in Tripa, Aceh province, the groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth said.
They also called on the government to investigate the use of fire by palm oil companies for land clearing and reinforce existing laws protecting the ecosystem.
Ian Singleton, conservation director of Swiss-based PanEco, one of the groups making up the Coalition for Protection of Tripa Swamp, said the roughly 200 orangutans left in the peat swamps will be gone in months if the fires continue.
“The speed of destruction, fires, burning and everything has gone up dramatically in the last few weeks, let alone in the last year, and this is obviously a deliberate drive by these companies to clear all the remaining forests,” he said.
“If this is not stopped right now, then all those orangutans, all those forests, will be gone before the end of 2012.”
Experts believe there are about 50,000 to 60,000 of the two species of orangutans left in the wild, 80 per cent of them in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia.
They are faced with extinction from poaching and the rapid destruction of their forest habitat, driven largely by palm oil and paper plantations.
Most of those left are the endangered Bornean orangutan species. And Singleton said that based on 2004 figures there are only 6600 of the critically-endangered Sumatran orangutans left in North Sumatra and Aceh provinces.
“We suspect that up to 100 orangutans may have perished in forest clearing and peat burning in the last few months in Tripa,” said Graham Usher of local group Foundation of a Sustainable Ecosystem.
Satellite monitoring found at least 87 fire hotspots between March 19 and 24 in three palm oil concessions.
Footage and images captured large clouds of white smoke and patches of burnt peat.
At least 2800 hectares of peat were destroyed in the latest fires, and the number of animals, including Sumatran orangutans, Malayan sun bears and Sumatran tigers that perished was “immeasurable”, the local group added.
Palm oil is a key ingredient in soap and everyday foods ranging from peanut butter to sweets but its cultivation is considered one of the biggest threats to the world’s dwindling rainforests.
March 27, 2012
Fires in Tripa.
Fires are burning in a peat forest that is the center of contentious court case.
77 “hotspots” have been detected in Tripa peat swamp, including fires set in an oil palm concession granted by Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf to PT. Kallista Alam last August. The plantation is currently facing a legal challenge by local communities and a coalition of environmental groups known as WAHLI, which contend the concession was granted in an area of protected forest and further violated a moratorium on peatlands conversion.
Jl. Wahid Hasyim no. 80
Deddy – Walhi / Friends of the Earth Indoensia (+62 81250807757)
Yuyun – Greenpeace (CellPhone: 0812 2616 1759)
Fires in Tripa.
Governor has dismayed supporters by allowing the destruction of a Sumatran forest where the apes live
When the former rebel leader Irwandi Yusuf became governor of Indonesia’s Aceh province, he proclaimed a “green vision” for the war-torn region. Aceh’s lush forests – still relatively pristine despite decades of civil conflict – would not be sacrificed for short-term profit, he promised. True to his word, he even chased down illegal loggers in his own jeep.
But, five years on, Mr Irwandi has dismayed supporters by authorising the destruction of a peat swamp forest which is one of the last refuges of the critically endangered Sumatran orang-utan. The move breaches a presidential moratorium – part of an international deal to save Indonesia’s forests – as well as legislation protecting a conservation area where the Tripa swamp is located.
Aceh lies at the north-western tip of Sumatra, where three-quarters of the Tripa forest has already been replaced by palm oil plantations. Conservationists warn the remainder – home to the densest population of Sumatran orang-utans – is crucial to the ape’s survival.
Global demand for palm oil is blamed for widespread forest destruction by the two main producers, Indonesia and Malaysia. The lowland forests, on Sumatra and Borneo, shelter the last orang-utans on the planet. The granting of a new permit to one of Indonesia’s biggest palm oil companies, PT Kallista Alam, threatens another 4,000 acres of Tripa peatland. Although the area is comparatively small, the move could set a dangerous precedent, according to Ian Singleton, who runs the Sumatran Orang-utan Conservation Programme. “If this goes ahead, no forest is safe,” he said.
Mr Irwandi, 51, used to be idolised by many Acehnese. He was a leader of the rebel movement, which fought for independence from Indonesia for 30 years, and was in prison in the capital, Banda Aceh, when the province was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2004. The walls of his jail came crashing down. “I didn’t escape from prison – it escaped from me,” he said later. After fleeing the country, he helped negotiate the peace deal that granted Aceh limited autonomy and he became governor in 2006.
There are believed to be only 6,600 Sumatran orang-utans left in the wild, with up to 1,000 in Tripa on Aceh’s west coast. Palm oil, along with the timber and paper industries, represents their biggest threat. The cheap and versatile oil is used in soap, biscuits and biofuels, and countless other products.
The peat swamps are renowned for their biodiversity and harbour a dozen endangered species including the white-handed gibbon, clouded leopard and giant soft-shelled turtle. They also hold massive carbon stocks which are released as trees are burnt and chopped down.
In Aceh, some locals call oil palm the “golden plant”, the cash crop they hope will lift them out of poverty. In Tripa, though, the conversion of an ancient forest to a monoculture is causing hardship to communities, which depend on the peatland system for drinking water, fish and medicinal plants. Villagers, who accuse the palm oil companies of taking their land, have filed a criminal complaint against the governor.
Mr Irwandi – whose actions have been linked by some observers to his campaign to be re-elected next month – is also being sued by WALHI Aceh, an environmental group. “We’re really disappointed with our governor,” said Muhammad Nizar, the group’s campaigns director. “It seems like he tries to get a good image in Indonesia and abroad, but he doesn’t really care about the forest.”
The two-year moratorium on new permits to log or convert primary forest and peatland was signed last May by the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as part of a $1bn (£637m) deal with Norway to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, largely because of rampant deforestation.
But even without the moratorium, Tripa, a key orang-utan habitat because of its abundant fruit trees, should enjoy legal protection because it falls within a conservation area known as the Leuser Ecosystem. A vast swathe of tropical rainforest, it is the last place on earth where elephants, rhinos, tigers and orang-utans are found in one spot.
Mr Singleton said satellite imagery showed that Kallista Alam had been felling and draining the peat forest since 2010, long before the permit was granted. He alleged that the company had also lit illegal fires – seen by The Independent in June 2009 on Kallista’s estate – to clear land in Tripa, designated a priority conservation site under the United Nations’ Great Ape Survival Plan.
Environmentalists say orang-utans are under increasing pressure as their habitats and food sources shrink. The apes stray into fields on the edge of forests to raid fruit trees and are shot at by farmers, who capture their babies and sell them as pets. There are also claims orang-utans discovered in forests being cleared for palm oil are systematically slaughtered.
In the Indonesian part of Borneo, four employees of a palm oil company, Khaleda Agroprima Malindo, were arrested last month on suspicion of killing at least 20 orang-utans. Khaleda allegedly ordered its workers to carry out the “pest control” programme, offering a bounty of 1m rupiah (£72) per orang-utan. Those arrested include the senior estate manager and a supervisor. The company has denied the allegations.
The controversy in Aceh is embarrassing for President Yudhoyono, who stressed to an international conference in Jakarta last September the need to “walk the talk … not just talk the talk” in relation to protecting Indonesia’s forests.
A spokesman for Mr Irwandi has said that correct procedures were followed in granting the permit to Kallista Alam. However, the Indonesian Forestry Ministry said that if the new concession was inside peatland, it would be in breach of the moratorium. Kallista Alam could not be reached for comment.
JAKARTA, Indonesia (27 September, 2011)_Indonesia’s President has vowed to dedicate the last three years of his administration to safeguarding his nation’s rainforests - a pledge that received broad support at a major conference in Jakarta.
Hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the conference provided a platform for 1,000 leaders of Indonesia’s government, business community and civil society, as well as foreign donors, to discuss the future of the forests, the third-largest tropical forest in the world.
“I will continue my work and dedicate the last three years of my term as President to deliver enduring results that will sustain and enhance the environment and forests of Indonesia,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at the conference. “If it weren’t for the benefits that our forests provide, then our way of life, our people, our economy, our environment and our society would be so much the poorer.”
“Our success in managing our forests will determine our future and the opportunities that will be available to our children.”
According to independent sources, Indonesia is losing about 1.1 million hectares of its forests each year. Most of it is due to unsustainable logging that includes the conversion of forests to plantations for palm oil and the pulp and paper industry. It is also partly due to large-scale illegal logging, which is estimated to cost Indonesia about $4 billion annually.
“We must change the way we treat our forests so that they are conserved even as we drive hard to accelerate our economic growth,” the President said. “I do not want to later explain to my granddaughter Almira that we, in our time, could not save the forests and the people that depend on it. I do not want to tell her the sad news that tigers, rhinoceroses, and orangutans vanished like the dinosaurs.”
In his speech, the president reiterated a 2009 pledge to cut Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 41 percent from business-as-usual levels by 2020 – a vow only achievable if the forests are safeguarded.
Globally, deforestation accounts for up to 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. In Indonesia, however that figure is up to 85 percent, Yudhoyono said. This makes the country one of the highest emitters in the world.
Norway has committed up to US$1 billion to help Indonesia meet its emissions reduction target, and in May this year the Indonesian government issued a two-year moratorium on new forestry concessions.
“Norway is proud of the partnership with Indonesia,” Erik Solheim, Norway’s Minister for the Environment and International Development, said at the conference. “We strongly encourage other countries to support the work that President Yudhoyono and the government of Indonesia is doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. President Yudhoyono is now one of the foremost statesmen leading the international fight to combat climate change.”
It is predicted that up to US$30 billion could flow from developed to developing countries each year to help facilitate significant reductions in deforestation, and Indonesia could potentially claim a significant share of these funds through REDD+, a global mechanism forReducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, as well as the conservation and sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
Indonesia is one of the countries with the most REDD+ demonstration activities in various stages of development, and Indonesia has been an early participant in various bilateral and multilateral initiatives to prepare for REDD+ implementation at the national level.
In addition to potential funding opportunities through REDD+ in coming years, Indonesia has a range of options available to reduce the pace of deforestation, while at the same time expanding agricultural production to guarantee food security targets and promote economic growth.
This includes focusing future agricultural development on so-called degraded land, rather than clearing rainforest to make way for plantations or developing carbon-rich peatland. The government could also support a push for agricultural intensification – increasing yields per hectare, which are currently relatively low.
“While there are some ‘win-win’ opportunities to reconcile forest management to meet both global and domestic objectives, there will also be some trade-offs that will require leadership from government, business, and civil society to determine the best way forward for Indonesia in a manner that is transparent and fair,” said Frances Seymour, CIFOR Director General.
As part of his push to safeguard the forests, President Yudhoyono called on Indonesia’s captains of industry to adopt more sustainable forests management practices.
“I call upon our business leaders, particularly those in the palm oil, pulp wood and mining sectors, to partner with us by enhancing the environmental sustainability of their operations,” the President said. “I ask you to join me in pledging to safeguard this national treasure for the sake of our children.”
The President’s pledge received widespread support from conference attendees.
“I am pleased to be here at the Forests Indonesia Conference because the UK recognizes the importance of climate change in Indonesia. We are pleased to be supporting the government of Indonesia’s work to meet its internationals climate change commitments,” said Jim Paice, UK Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
published by CIFOR blog