Google Earth images demonstrate true extent of burned peatlands in pulp giant's concessions

JAKARTA (foresthints.news) - An accurate map showing the extent of last year’s widespread and destructive fires needs to be finalized by means of a spatial verification process and on-the-ground inspections, given that to date the Indonesian government is still referring to the existing, unverified indicative map.

In light of this, such on-the-ground verifications at the locations of the peat fires are being continuously undertaken by the Environment and Forestry Ministry, most notably in forestry concession areas.

Meanwhile, a spatial analysis performed by foresthints.news using Google Earth images demonstrates that not all the peatlands burned in the Sinarmas Forestry pulpwood concessions in South Sumatra province last year are covered in the existing indicative map of burned peatlands. This represents just one example of spatially-based evidence.

Given the inaccuracy of the existing indicative map of burned peatlands, it is absolutely essential that this map is revised without delay, particularly in the context of accelerating peat restoration efforts.

Last year's peat fires in three Sinarmas Forestry pulpwood concessions in Ogan Komering Ilir regency (OKI), which are located in a single peatland landscape, rendered this landscape the most severely affected in terms of burned peatlands.

Nonetheless, with operations of OKI Pulp and Paper Mills having commenced, this Asia Pulp and Paper (APP)-owned company has started sourcing acacia plantation fiber from the three Sinarmas Forestry pulpwood concessions which suffered such serious peat fires at the end of last year.

As part of its efforts to take over burned areas in forestry concessions, the Environment and Forestry Ministry has already conducted on-the ground verifications of at least 12 forestry concessions.

Data obtained by foresthints.news illustrates that burned peatlands roughly the size of Singapore situated in two Sinarmas Forestry pulpwood concessions in OKI have already been verified at the ground level. As such, these areas stand to be taken over by the government.

However, the extent of these areas is sure to grow further given that the verification process of burned peatlands in the three Sinarmas Forestry pulpwood concessions in OKI is still underway, and that the actual area of burned peatlands in the three pulpwood concessions reaches into the hundreds of thousands of hectares.

Based on a 2015 Environment and Forestry Minister's Decree, companies are prohibited from taking advantage of burned areas, for example by replanting acacia. In the event that a company were to do this, it would be a considered a violation of the terms of the decree.

Moreover, President Joko Widodo has shown himself to be extremely serious when it comes to the government taking over burned areas, especially those found in concession areas and even more so in peatlands. This serious commitment on the part of the President also extends to the restoration of peat domes, both those which are drained and undrained.

In line with this, since early November last year, Joko Widodo's administration has also expressly forbidden companies from exploiting peatlands, especially for plantation and forestry business activities.

In fact, the government’s firmness on this matter has already been proven by its refusal to compromise with any party found to be committing violations in peatlands designated for restoration.

An example of this was seen recently when an APRIL-owned pulpwood concession operating in Pulau Padang, in Sumatra's Riau province, had its operations suspended by the ministry for three months due to committing peatland-related violations. On top of this, the APRIL company involved had its new work plan annulled by the ministry, among the reasons for which was its intention to expand acacia plantations in peatlands.