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.
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.
Several protected areas across the archipelago remain under threat of deforestation apparently due to the ineffective moratorium program launched by the government last year, environmental groups say.
The environmental groups have witnessed continuing forest destruction by several companies despite the moratorium.
They estimate that 4.9 million hectares of primary forests and peatland, out of a total 71.01 million hectares covered by the moratorium, will be lost to palm-oil industries, coal mines and other forest conversions by the end of this month.
“The data shows that the forests and peatland are still at risk,” said Yuyun Indradi, Greenpeace Indonesia’s political campaigner.
The three largest protected areas are located in Kalimantan, with 1.9 million hectares; followed by Papua, with 1.7 million hectares; and Sumatra, with 775,371 hectares.
In Central Kalimantan, the regions worst affected by the industries are Pulang Pisau and South Lamandau. Meanwhile, the most endangered areas in Riau are Pulau Padang, Kerumutan, Kampar peninsula and Senepis forest. They are all known for their extensive peatland coverage.
In its efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), the Indonesian government issued a presidential decree in May 2011, ordering a two-year suspension on new concession permits on primary forests and peatland.
At the time, the government said it would review the moratorium every six months. In November 2011, it published a revision, in which some areas were removed from the moratorium map, including the Tripa peat swamp in Aceh. The total area covered in the revision was 65.37 million hectares.
Forestry Ministry spokesman Sumarto Suharno told The Jakarta Post last month that one of the reasons behind Tripa’s removal was data from the National Land Agency (BPN) that indicated that those areas were suitable for commercial development.
The environmental groups have accused the government of turning a blind eye to ongoing deforestation by companies that were granted concessions before the decree was issued.
The environmental activists stated that those companies were “the ones that are continuing to destroy the environment”.
“It seems like the government condones these practices,” Muslim Rasyid, from the Riau Forest Rescue Network (Jikalahari), said.
Muslim added that palm-oil industries had also encroached further into the biosphere reserve in Bukit Kecil, Riau, adding that the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) knew exactly what was going on there, but had yet to offer any concrete solution.
Yuyun said that he and his fellow activists appreciated that several government agencies had sent investigative teams into the threatened areas.
However, he added that for the agencies, violations of environmental laws were unimportant.
“They issued recommendations, but what we really want them to do is to take stern measures to curb the ongoing deforestation. For the moment, they must stop the industries’ operations and review their permits,” he added.
The coalition concluded that by the end of this month, when the government is due to publish another moratorium revision, nothing much would have been achieved. (tas)
- Walhi, REDD task force fight forest clearing – The Jakarta Post (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Press release: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono being petitioned from around the world to uphold Indonesian Laws (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Faint ray of hope for Orangutans – Canberra Times (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Indonesia to investigate contested oil palm concession as governor loses election in Sumatra (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Researchers warn delays thwart efforts to save Indonesia’s environment (eco-business.com)
- SBY Aide Vows to Probe Aceh Forest Concession (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Oil palm surging source of greenhouse gas emissions (yubanet.com)
- SOCP Tripa Battle Call (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Governor of Aceh who signed palm oil permit: plantation in Tripa “morally wrong” (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Australian REDD Fail in Indonesia’s Kalimantan forests (radioaustralia.net.au)