Environmentalists have called on police and the Indonesian government to step up their investigations into environmental crimes being committed in the Tripa peat swamp forest in northern Sumatra.
A new petition to save Tripa was launched in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, on October 3. It calls for the immediate prosecution of palm oil companies and others who have broken the law.
The move came just a week after the governor of Aceh province, Zaini Abdullah, executed a high court order and revoked an illegal permit granted to the palm oil company PT Kallista Alam.
The Tripa peat swamp forest lies within the Leuser ecosystem and should be off-limits for conversion. It is home to the highest-density population of Sumatran orangutans in the world, but it’s estimated that at least one hundred of them have perished in recent forest clearing and peat burning.
Conservation Director of the Sumatran Conservation Programme, Ian Singleton, says satellite imagery from the last week in September showed that burning and illegal clearing was still going on in the PT Dua Perkasa Lestari concession in Tripa. “There are three companies that have been the major slash-and-burn culprits, namely PT SPS 2, PT Dua Perkasa Lestari and PT Kallista Alam.”
Deddy Raith, forest campaigner for Walhi (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), said the revoking of PT Kallista Alam’s permit was a step in the right direction, but the government and police needed to do much more to protect Tripa.
“The environment ministry continues to investigate a raft of environmental crimes in Tripa, but there is no end in sight and the legal testimonies given to the national police by local people continue to be ignored.”
Kamaruddin, a lawyer representing the local community in Tripa urged the national police chief and the environment ministry to conduct a thorough investigation of the crimes against spatial planning, plantation, and environmental laws and regulations being committed in Tripa.
“There are strong indications that enforcement of the law in the Tripa case has been hijacked by the financial power of corporations operating in the peat swamp forest.
“We hope that this case, which has attracted national and international attention, will not be blocked by those in the law enforcement and government agencies who have vested interests.”
A community leader from Aceh, Adnan NS, said that despite the revoking of PT Kallista Alam’s permit and the ongoing investigations into the illegal activities of palm oil companies, nothing had changed on the ground.
“Community livelihoods continue to be destroyed. Community leaders travelled all the way to Jakarta to report this to the national police back in November 2011, but we are still waiting for action and demand to know why people’s testimonies have been ignored.”
Ian Singleton said there was huge international interest in the governance of Indonesia’s remaining forests and the rapid decline in local wildlife populations.
“Anyone with a computer can now check on forest clearance in Indonesia, measure and quantify it, and get daily updates on illegal fires, and circulate that information globally.
“As individuals we have never before had access to so much quantifiable information in other parts of the world or the ability to share it so widely. People around the world continue to be extremely alarmed and concerned about Tripa.
“Unless the destruction is halted very, very quickly, we are still likely to see the local extinction of Sumatran orangutans from Tripa in the very near future.”
The Tripa peat swamp forest covers about 61,803 hectares and about 90 percent of it is under concession to five palm oil companies.
More than 25,000 people have already signed a petition calling for immediate action to halt the destruction of Tripa’s unique ecosystem.
The new petition calls on Indonesia’s national police to follow up on the findings of the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) task force and the environment ministry, and formally prosecute those who have committed crimes in Tripa.
“Much more still needs to be done to protect the remaining forests of Tripa, Aceh, and Indonesia as a whole,” said Usman Hamid of change.org Indonesia.
The expansion permit that has now been revoked was given to PT Kallista Alam in August 2011 by the then governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf.
The Administrative High Court of Medan ordered Zaini Abdullah to revoke the permit, which would have allowed PT Kallista Alam to plant oil palms on 1,605 hectares of the Tripa peat swamp.
While the expansion permit has been revoked, the company can still cultivate oil palms within Tripa; it can work on the concession it was granted in December 1995, half of which comes within the Leuser ecosystem. This permit hasn’t been revoked.
PT Kallista Alam is continuing to work in this concession. Satellite imagery from September 23 shows that they have recently been preparing areas for planting. At that stage, they were not clearing any more forest or burning areas of land.
REDD+: The international “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” initiative is aimed at boosting efforts to conserve and sustainably manage forests and increase carbon stock. Developing countries are offered incentives to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.