Peat agency disagrees with Greenpeace recommendation for peat restoration priority areas

JAKARTA (foresthints.news) - In mid-June, the Indonesian peat restoration agency (BRG) released indicative peat restoration maps as part of its public consultation process. After these indicative maps were made available to the public, Greenpeace delivered its written input to the peat agency about the substance of the maps.

foresthints.news submitted several questions to Greenpeace in order to get more clarity on its position (Jul 14), particularly with respect to issues involving the taking over of burned peatland and peat domes by the government, law enforcement in the wake of last year's fires, as well as the areas to be prioritized for peat restoration.

In response to these questions, the world's leading environmental campaigning organization explained its views very clearly which included elaborating on its position as to how to achieve the greatest impact possible in terms of peat restoration efforts in Indonesia.

Greenpeace expressed its support for the taking over of burned peatland, in both pulpwood and palm oil concessions, as long as the Indonesian government has a clear plan in place for the protection and management of this peatland.

But we do not think it can be automatically assumed that the governments management is the same as good management - look for example at how badly some of Indonesias national parks are managed, Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Indonesia told foresthints.news in an emailed statement on Friday (Jul 15).

Greenpeace also set out a detailed position concerning the efforts currently being undertaken by the Indonesian government, especially those aimed at restoring both peat domes planted with acacia as well as oil palms with a view to protecting them in the long term.

Our position on peat domes is that protection and management should be based on an accurate definition of what a peat dome is. Protecting or restoring just 30% of the top of domes is a scientifically flawed concept - taking over such areas from companies may achieve little or nothingin terms of reducing fire risks or improving peatland management.

Instead, Greenpeace put forth another opinion on this issue. Taking over other areas where there is still a chance to protect the whole peat dome would be a better place to focus.

Greenpeace outlined some explicit measures it feels should be taken in response to last years massive land and forest fires which, according to World Bank calculations, caused USD 16.1 billions worth damage to the Indonesian economy.

It expressed the desire for strong law enforcement to be carried out, in accordance with the countrys laws, with respect to what it termed yesterday's fires and for best practices to be applied in the management of burned peatland areas (including ensuring high water levels) to reduce fire risks.

However, Greenpeace also cautioned that the resources available for peat restoration need to be focused in the right areas if the genuine purpose is to prevent tomorrow's fires.

Simply focusing on the restoration of areas where fires have happened before is not likely to achieve this. We want to see the identification of key peatland landscapes where fires are likely to happen in the future and the protection ofall remaining forests in these areas as well as the restoration of important surrounding areas.

Greenpeace reiterated that the existing resources for peat restoration must be allocated to those places in which they will have the greatest effect, in terms of both peat restoration as well as reducing future fire risks. The prominent environmental organization prefaced its suggestion to the peat agency by stressing the fact that all its recommendations are always based on sound scientific research.

Our recommendation to the peat agency (BRG) actually relates to the priority areas for restoration. We believe that priority should be given to the less degraded peatland areas because the problem with heavily degraded areas is that they need many resources for restoration with potentially little or no gain. It is better to ensure that best practices are applied in the management of previously burned areas outside of priority landscapes, with high water levels being maintained, to reduce fire risks.

According to Greenpeace, less degraded peatland ecosystems need to be prioritized for restoration even though there are many companies operating in these areas. To this end, in these less degraded peatland areas, the practice of drainage must be prohibited so as not to impact on the surrounding peatland in protected areas.

Greenpeace concluded its written statement to foresthints.news as follows. As we have previously stated, we are supporting the governments efforts in restoring peatland and carrying out strong law enforcement, but to protect (on a permanent basis, and not just through a moratorium) and restore landscapes which could be the location of future fires is the most crucial step to take, and this is where BRG and others can really have the most impact.

Peat agency's reaction

In response to Greenpeaces stated position on these issues, Nazir Foead, Chief of the Indonesian Peat Agency, expressed his view that it is just as vital for the peat agency to prevent future fires as it is for them to restore the peatland areas burned in last years fires.

The peat agency, he added, was focused on giving equal attention to peatland areas in relatively good condition, or less degraded peatland, and heavily degraded peatland, in this case those areas spread throughout the peat agencys seven priority provinces.

The peat agency was assigned by a presidential regulation to restore approximately two million hectares of burned peatland. This was the result of yesterday's fires. A fairly significant amount of these burned peatland areas are located in pulpwood and palm oil concessions. Of course, the majority of areas prioritized for restoration are situated there, so we dont need to look for less degraded peatland areas for restoration, Nazir told foresthints.news on Friday (Jul 15) in Jakarta.

Nazir gave the example of two regencies in South Sumatra province in which pulpwood concessions are located - significant areas of which were burned in last year's peat fires that have been designated by a presidential regulation as priority regencies for the peat agencys operations.

We wont be seeking out less degraded peatland areas in South Sumatra province to be restored for the purpose of reducing tomorrow's fire risks. However, we will keep monitoring potential fire risks in peatland areas that have not been prioritized for restoration.

With respect to the government taking over management of burned peatland areas in certain concessions, Nazir said that this was the decision of the government. He cited the Environment and Forestry Ministers Regulation issued in mid-December 2015, which regulates this transfer of management.

Further to the issue of the governments takeover of burned peatland, Nazir cited data showing that of the 4.1 million hectares of peatland located in conservation and protection areas, only less than 10 percent was damaged.

Meanwhile, in respect of the taking over of the management of peat domes located in concessions, in particular pulpwood and palm oil concessions, Nazir pointed out that this was an instruction of President Jokowi that needed to be implemented to the best degree possible.

Significant areas of indicative peat domes located in pulpwood concessions were burned in last year's peat fires in South Sumatra province.

Peat domes located in pulpwood concessions, for instance, have to be incorporated into protection zones in the operational plans of the companies running the concessions. If these peat domes have been planted with acacia, it would be a pity not to wait until these trees are harvested. However, after harvesting, these peat domes may not be planted with acacia again, but rather revegetated with plant species suited to peatland.

With regard to the level of accuracy in defining and identifying the locations of peat domes, the peat agency chief declared that the government already had indicative data on the locations of peat domes but that this data would be backed up with international standard methodologies and technologies.

For example, to ensure that these peat domes are no longer planted with acacia, the peat domes located in pulpwood concessions according to the governments indicative map must be subject to a moratorium first until the results of the verification details of these peat domes through LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) are finalized and on the ground checks completed. It might even turn out that these peat domes are actually smaller in size than what is shown on the indicative map, or vice-versa.

As to the resources available for peat restoration in the priority areas, Nazir said that this depends on the budget strategy and its allocation. To illustrate this, he explained that peat restoration efforts in pulpwood and palm oil concessions naturally required the resources of the companies involved to restore the burned peatland areas scattered among their concessions.

"Funds from the state budget (APBN) will continue playing an important role until 2020, as peat restoration remains one of the core agendas of the Indonesian government. On the other hand, the role of funding from donor groups should also be strengthened to a significant level.

Nazir concluded his interview with foresthints.news on a determined note: We are going forward in our efforts to restore burned peatland areas, including taking over the management of peat domes situated in concession areas. The Presidents instructions have been clear in both of these regards. The fact that a large amount of resources are required for this initiative is not an obstacle. We simply have to keep carrying out the Presidents instructions.