Environmentalists in Sumatra say there is evidence that the Tripa peat swamp is still being burned. They are calling on the Indonesian authorities to take more action to halt the destruction.
The Indonesian government has announced that legal action is underway against the palm oil company PT Kallista Alam, which has an illegal concession in the area.
The government move came after a large-scale international campaign against destruction of the peat swamp, which is home to the world’s densest population of the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan.
Environmentalists had hoped that the government investigation, and the announcement of legal action, would bring an end to the palm oil companies’ slash-and-burn activity.
Part of the Tripa forest has been put back on the moratorium map that indicates which areas are protected, and off-limits for conversion.
“This continued burning of Tripa is blatantly breaching Indonesian law,” said Ian Singleton, conservation director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme. “Despite the joint investigation currently being conducted by the Ministry of the Environment and the national police in areas right across Tripa, and indeed Indonesia, the national laws continue to be flaunted.
“While a small area of Tripa has been returned to the moratorium map, there are five palm oil concessions in Tripa operating illegally inside the protected Leuser Ecosystem. Only two of them are being investigated, and even in these concessions, destruction is continuing on the ground, with drainage canals still drying the peat swamp.”
Dedy Raith, forest campaigner for WALHI (Friends of the Earth, Indonesia), said the environment ministry and national police needed to increase the scope of their investigation to include all concessions and cover the entire 60,000 hectares of the Tripa peat swamp.
“The investigation must trace the path of the destruction of Tripa, and identify those responsible for allowing this to happen. Full legal prosecutions need to be brought.”
In August 2011, the then governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf, issued a licence to PT Kallista Alam to convert 1,605 hectares of the Tripa peat forest into a palm oil plantation.
Orangutans are not the only animals in jeopardy in the Tripa swamp; the area has also been home to Sumatran tigers, Malayan sun bears and other endangered and protected wildlife.
Peatlands lock up huge amounts of carbon, so it is essential to conserve them. Indonesia’s peatlands cover less than 0.1 per cent of the Earth’s surface, but, because of the way they are being destroyed, they are now responsible for 4 per cent of global emissions every year. No less than ten million of Indonesia’s 22.5 million hectares of peatland have already been deforested and drained.
Photo: Carlos Quiles