Residents and plantation companies continue to open plantation areas by burning forests because it is the easiest and cheapest method, the nation’s disaster-prevention agency says.
“The people and businesses burn [forests] because it is much cheaper,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), told BeritaSatu on Saturday.
“Besides, they normally burn peatland where the acid level of the land is unsuitable for plantation. [The area] will become fertile if it’s burned and the ashes can be used as fertilizer.”
Sutopo said that explained why people were still burning forests to open land despite many regulations to ban the practice.
The Environment Ministry is investigating eight companies in Sumatra — two in Riau, four in South Sumatra and two in Aceh — that allegedly burned a total of 3,814 hectares of forest land to open new plantation areas.
The government has also put eight provinces on its forest fire control priority list: North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, East Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan.
Environmental law analyst Mas Achmad Santosa said that the lack of investigators to handle environmental cases slowed the Environment Ministry from enforcing the law. “The law offers a wide scope for law enforcement on environmental crimes,” Santosa said on Sunday.
The Law on Environmental Protection and Management enables civil servants tasked with investigating environmental cases to immediately start or halt an investigation without reporting it to the police. They are also authorized to arrest suspects through coordination with the police.
But many environmental crimes investigators no longer work in law enforcement. The ministry “just needs to call the civil servants who have shifted to other fields but still working in the ministry,” he said.
Previously, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said the ministry had 1600 environmental crimes investigations to be distributed. Ministry data showed that 554 cases as of November 2010 but only 398 were active.
On Saturday morning, BNPB put out fires in an oil palm plantation area in Muarojambi district, Jambi.
“The fire on a 700-hectare plot of land in Muarojambi was contained this morning. It was an oil palm plantation area,” Sutopo said, adding that the fire-fighting effort involved artificial rain, water bombs and land-based attacks.
The agency is creating artificial rains in Riau and Central Kalimantan for 40 days because the dry season has just started.
“In Riau, the artificial rain will be created using two Cassa 212 aircraft and two helicopters for water bombs,” Sutopo said, adding that artificial rains would also be generated over Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.
“Artificial rains were created on Aug. 12, and we will do it again on Aug. 28 in both provinces. The process will be carried out for 40 consecutive days,” he said.
Water bombing is one method of containing forest fires, however, it has limited coverage and cannot be done over wide areas. “With artificial rains, it depends on the clouds. There are not enough clouds in mountainous areas during the dry season. … It’s possible to be carried out on peatlands by soaking them with water so that it doesn’t burn easily, but given the condition of rivers in Indonesia, this also poses a problem,” Sutopo said.
BNPB has allocated Rp 12 billion ($1.26 million) to contain forest fires but will increase it to Rp 30 billion if conditions worsen. BNPB has also prepared three additional helicopters and two aircraft to create artificial rains.
They’re better known as stealthy killing machines to take out suspected terrorists with pinpoint accuracy. But drones are also being put to more benign use in skies across several continents to track endangered wildlife, spot poachers and chart forest loss.
Although it’s still the “dawn of drone ecology,” as one innovator calls it, these unmanned aerial vehicles are already skimming over Indonesia’s jungle canopy to photograph orangutans, protecting rhinos in Nepal and studying invasive aquatic plants in Florida.
Activists launched a long-range drone in December to locate and photograph a Japanese whaling ship as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society attempted to block Japan’s annual whale hunt in Antarctic waters.
Relatively cheap, portable and earth-hugging, they fill a gap between satellite and manned aircraft imagery and on-the-ground observations, says Percival Franklin at the University of Florida, which has been developing such drones for more than a decade.
“The potential uses are almost unlimited,” says Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, testing drones this year over Indonesia’s Tripa peat forest where fires set by palm oil growers are threatening the world’s highest density habitat of the great apes.
Conservation is one of the latest roles for these multi-taskers, either autonomously controlled by on-board computers or under remote guidance of a navigator. Ranging in size from less than half a kilogram (pound) to more than 18 metric tons (20 tons), drones have been used for firefighting, road patrols, hurricane tracking and other jobs too dull, dirty or dangerous for piloted craft.
Most prominently, they have been harnessed by the US military in recent years, often to detect and kill opponents in America’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.
A conservation drone pioneer, Lian Pin Koh of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, says the idea came to him after another sweaty, jungle slog in Sabah, Malaysia, hauling heavy equipment for his field work.
“I told my assistant, who happened to be my wife, `How wonderful it would be if we could fly over that area rather than walk there again tomorrow,’” recalled the Singaporean expert on tropical deforestation, and a model plane hobbyist.
Unlike eco-drones in the United States, mostly custom-built or commercial models, Koh last year cobbled together a far cheaper, off-the-shelf version that poorer organizations and governments in the developing world can better afford.
He and partner Serge Wich bought a model plane _ some are available in China for as little as $100 _ added an autopilot system, open source software to program missions, and still and video cameras. All for less than $2,000, or ten times cheaper than some commercial vehicles with similar capabilities.
This year, they have flown more than 200 mostly test runs in Asia using an improved version with a 2-meter (6.5 foot) wing span, air time of 45 minutes and a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) range.
The drones were flown over rough terrain in Malaysia where GPS-collared elephants are difficult to monitor from the ground. In Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Nepal Army conducted trials on detecting rhino and elephant poachers. The duo also assisted the Ugalla Primate Project to head count chimpanzees in western Tanzania.
“Counting orangutan nests is the main way of surveying orangutan populations,” says Graham Usher of the Sumatran project, which captured one of the apes atop a palm tree feeding on palm heart in a sharp photograph. From higher altitudes the drones, he said, also provide high-resolution, real-time images showing where forests are being cleared and set ablaze.
By contrast ground expeditions are time-consuming, logistically cumbersome and expensive. A conventional orangutan census in Sumatra, which may also involve helicopters and aircraft, costs some $250,000. Surveying land use by satellite is likewise costly and hampered by frequent cloud cover over tropical areas.
But there are drawbacks with drones, including landing them in often thickly vegetated areas since they need clear touch-down zones of about 100 by 100 meters (yards). Koh said he was working to rig the vehicle with a parachute to allow landing in confined space.
Franklin says the hardware and image interpretation are still being developed as more missions are planned in the United States, ranging from counting pygmy rabbit burrows in Idaho to monitoring salmon-eating seabirds off the Oregon coast.
The University of Florida is testing another “war on terror” weapon, thermal imaging, to hunt for Burmese pythons invading the state’s Everglades, having found the snakes regulate temperatures of their nests in a way that makes them visible through such technology.
Other eyes-in-the-sky increasingly used for conservation tasks are ultralights, birdlike craft with a major advantage over drones _ the human touch.
“It’s the closest thing we have come to flying like birds 30,000 years after coming out of caves,” says Mark Silverberg, preparing to take a reporter up in a para-motor ultralight, one earlier hired by conservation groups to photograph and video Mekong River dolphins, tiger habitat in Myanmar and denuded hills in northern Thailand.
Taking off from a fallow rice field in Pranburi district, south of the Thai capital Bangkok, we nearly brush branches as our two-seater ultralight craft needles through stands of trees, follows a flock of water fowl just below us, then soars to 300 meters (980 feet) for an all-horizons view. Where humanity intersects with nature is clearly evident, and beyond loom limestone cliffs of a national park invaded by polluting shrimp farms.
“I can really craft a shoot, a sequence, show scenes better than drones because there is a human being who can take in and react to the whole environment more immediately and make adjustments,” says Silverberg, an American who runs Paramotor Thailand.
The ultralight, he explains, has other advantages over most eco-drones: it can remain airborne for up to three hours, cover 70 kilometers and carry heavier payloads. But ultralights are rather noisy and pilots are reluctant to fly over water or thick vegetation in event of an emergency landing.
“All in all, there’s really no competition with drones,” says Silverberg after the flight over south of Bangkok. “Both are really great tools for conservation.”
- Life And Death: Killing Machines Used In Eco Conservation (huffingtonpost.com)
- New role for drones: eco-warriors (stuff.co.nz)
- Ecology drones track endangered wildlife (guardian.co.uk)
- New role for drones – wildlife, eco conservation (kansascity.com)
In an effort to deter people from keeping orangutans in captivity, animal activists and researchers have demanded tough sanctions for anyone keeping the animals as their pets, even after turning them over to the authorities.
“It is most effective if there is an agreement that they [violators] will get a heavy punishment next time,” said Sri Suci Utami Atmoko, an orangutan researcher at the National University in Jakarta. “Otherwise, there will be no deterrent.”
Suci said that people who live in and around plantation and mining areas find the orangutans and keep them. The animals most likely wandered out of their habitats because of encroachment due to growing plantation and mining activities.
The researcher added that the process of releasing orangutans back into the wild takes a long time, costs a lot of money, and that steps must be taken to prevent their being recaptured or returned to captivity.
She added that it costs about $3,500 per year to care for an orangutan that has been in captivity, and prepare it for a life in the wild. That cost does not include health care.
“We are also very disappointed that while we are releasing orangutans back to nature, defendants in orangutan killings are only given sentences of between eight and 10 months,” Suci said. “Where is the deterrent effect?”
Experts say there are 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans remaining in the wild. Eighty percent of them are in Indonesia and the rest are in Malaysia.
Many conservationists have raised concerns that the country’s orangutans could become extinct.
A joint survey by 19 organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, WWF and the Association of Primate Experts, recently discovered that about 750 orangutans died in 2008 and 2009, mostly because of conflicts with human beings.
The Orangutan Reintroduction Center of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation in Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan, has released 23 of the 40 orangutans scheduled to be released this year.
At the Reintroduction Center in Samboja Lestari, East Kalimantan, only six of the projected 30 primates have been released.
Jamartin Sihite, BOS chief executive, said recently that the problems and high cost of releasing back orangutans to the wild was due to a shortage of suitable land for a habitat.
“There isn’t enough land that’s suitable and free from disruption,” he said.
In trying to secure more land, the foundation had to obtain land concession rights from the Forestry Ministry.
It paid Rp 13 billion ($1.4 million) for the rights to 86,450 hectares of land for the next 60 years, Jamartin said.
BANDA ACEH – Head of the Aceh Police, Inspector General Iskandar Hasan said that his office will summon everyone involved in the case of Tripa Peat Swamp.
“We will see, if involved, anyone, not only the former Governor, will be summoned,” he said to The Atjeh Post after an event Saweu Keude Kupi at Bay Café, Ulee Lheu, Banda Aceh on Friday, May 11, 2012.
Shortly before, Akhiruddin Mahjuddin, Coordinator of Indonesian Anti-Corruption Movement (GeRAK), has been questioning, why the Aceh Police has not been examining the former Governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf, who has been issuing the permit to PT Kalista Alam.
“Before the concession permit for PT Kalista Alam was issued by the Governor of Aceh, at that time Irwandi Yusuf, on August 25, 2011, the Aceh Police sent a letter with the number B/173/VIII/2001/Dit Reskrimsus to the Head of BP2T Aceh on August 11, 2011,” said Akhiruddin.
He said that the content of the letter legalised PT Kalista Alam to utilise the particular area, although it is situated within Leuser Ecosystem and without any Plantation Permit. The permit was in the process of accomplishment and for PT Kalista Alam the plantation permit was exceptionally issued by BP2T Aceh.
According to the Inspector General, the problem is not about the land clearing for oil palm plantation, but the clearing by burning.
“The problem is the burning (of the land). The permit was complete. How the process of the permit, this could be investigated at the related office,” he said.
In conjunction with the case, the Directorate of Special Crime of the Aceh Police has been accompanying the joint team of the Ministry of Environment, who conducted field visit to Tripa Peat Swamp several days before.
“The occurring peat fires are now processed by the National Police together with related department. Then they will follow up on this, also for the legal process,” said Iskandar.
The Inspector General hoped that the environmental sustainability of Tripa Peat Swamp will not be distracted in the future.
The case of Tripa Peat Swamp emerged after it was reported by the Community Concerned about Tripa on November 23, 2011 to the National Police. Based on that report, the National Police ordered the Aceh Police through a letter No. B/4472/Ops/XI/2011/Bareskrim dated on November 25, 2011 to conduct investigation.