Indonesian govt halts forest destruction
JAKARTA THE Indonesian government and environmentalists have moved to halt the destruction of a peatland forest after activists warned that the endangered Sumatran orangutans in the area have almost been driven to extinction.
A coalition of local and international conservation groups warned last month that orangutans in the Tripa forest on Sumatra island could disappear by the end this year unless action was taken to stop land clearing using fire by plantation companies.
“Palm oil companies have been burning peatlands in violation of Indonesian laws,” said Ian Singleton, director for the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program.
“The situation is urgent and requires action.” The Coalition to Save Tripa, which includes the local group Walhi and Greenpeace, said satellite images from December 26 showed less than 13,000 hectares of the area’s 60,000 hectares of forest remained and at least 40 hotspots indicating fires were detected in March.
About 100 orangutans in the area had died as a result of the recent destruction of their habitat, with only an estimated 200 remaining, they said.
There are currently about 6,600 Sumatran orangutans in the wild, according to conservationists.
The Ministry of Environment said it was investigating the allegations that palm oil companies operating in the area had broken laws.
“We are looking into whether these companies have conducted an analysis on environmental impacts or other environmental feasibility studies,” said Sudariyono, the ministry’s deputy for legal compliance.
The government’s task force for the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) program said last week that its investigation showed that the fires had been “ignited in a systematic wellplanned manner.” It said the fires were located in a forest concession area granted to the palm oil company PT Kallista Alam and that its activities potentially violated several national laws.
The task force urged the Environment Ministry and the police to investigate and charge those responsible.
In May last year, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree committing Indonesia to a two-year moratorium on new clearing permits for an area of around 60 million hectares of virgin forest and carbon-rich peatland.
The move was part of the country’s commitment to the REDD program, which aims to reduce climate change from greenhouse gasses.
But in August, the thengovernor of Aceh province, Irwandi Yusuf, signed a permit to allow Kallista to convert 1,600 hectares of land in Tripa into a palm oil plantation.
Tripa was included in the moratorium map, in April last year, but it disappeared from a revised version in November, Walhi group said.
The destruction of peatlands releases large amounts of carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change.
Indonesia is estimated to be the third-largest producer of greenhouse gasses, largely owing to the rapid destruction of its forests.
It aims to reduce the emissions by at least 26 per cent by 2020.