Fires in Protected Peat Forest Have Companies Feeling the Heat

Fires continued to be set in Tripa’s peat forestl, 13 June 2012, Aceh province, Sumatra, Indonesia. According to a field team from the coalition of NGO’s to protect Tripa, that visited the area. Fires are continuing to be lit in the highly threatened Tripa Peat Forest for palm oil plantations despite assurances from the Indonesian central government that ‘triple track’ legal action was underway and a small area of the Peat Forest had returned to the moratorium map central to the multibillion agreement between Indonesia and Norway to reduce carbon emission from burning the carbon dense Peat Forests. Photo: Paul Hilton/SOCP/YEL (HANDOUT PHOTO, EDITORIAL USE ONLY)

The Jakarta Globe

Fidelis E. Satriastanti 

The Environment Ministry has found indications of arson in recent fires at the protected Tripa peat forest in Aceh, a senior ministry official said on Sunday.

“It baffles me. We are still investigating, but these fires keep occurring,” said Sudariyono, the ministry’s deputy for legal compliance.

“We have a strong suspicion that the fires are not accidental, judging by how they are shaped. When viewed from above it is very irregular. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a mitigation system, in the sense that no one’s trying to put them out.”

The Tripa swamp is a key habitat of the Sumatran orangutan, a critically endangered species, with 200 individuals believed to be living in the area.

A moratorium map published by the ministry identified Tripa as protected area. Tripa is also part of Leuser Ecosystem, a national strategic area for environmental protection. There is also a law in place that is meant to prohibit the issuance of new concessions on land with peat layers more than three meters deep.

Despite this, two companies, Kallista Alam and Surya Panen Subur 2, received concessions in Tripa.

Kallista’s permit, issued by former Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, is currently the subject of a legal challenge by activists.

Sudariyono said Surya Panen “was suspected of burning some 1,183 hectares” of land inside the Tripa peat swamp from March 19 to 24 this year.

Kallista, he said, was believed to have burned some 30 hectares of its 1,605-hectare concession in the peat swamp.

The ministry has not concluded its investigation but Sudariyono said his office was already mulling legal action against Kallista and Surya Panen. The companies “could be charged in criminal court over the fires and they could face lawsuits for damaging the forest,” he said.

The Environment Ministry has questioned witnesses from the two companies, nongovernmental organizations, residents and local government offices.

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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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