Forest fires rage again in Indonesia: Greenpeace calls on Government to act to protect ravaged provinces

Feature story - August 30, 2006
A startling discovery of widespread destruction in Sumatra's ancient forests, caused by fires which threatens to burn out of control.

Plantations around Riau, owned by the two giant pulp and paper producers, Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd. (APRIL) and Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). Popular species for pulp, Acacia Mangium, plantations are susceptible to forest fires. The government has stipulated that it is now a crime to clear land by burning.

Firefighters are municipal policemen from Pekanbaru. They are part of a provincial team mobilised to manage the forest fires but are understaffed and underequipped to deal with the widespread fires.

Firefighters are municipal policemen from Pekanbaru. They are part of a provincial team mobilised to manage the forest fires but are understaffed and underequipped to deal with the widespread fires.

Firefighters are municipal policemen from Pekanbaru. They are part of a provincial team mobilised to manage the forest fires but are understaffed and underequipped to deal with the widespread fires.

Firefighters are municipal policemen from Pekanbaru. They are part of a provincial team mobilised to manage the forest fires but are understaffed and underequipped to deal with the widespread fires.

Smoke from forest fires in natural forest lacking any commercial timber, left by forest concessions owner PT Siak Raya Timber adjacent to Tesso Nilo national park.

A Greenpeace team of investigators has discovered widespread destruction of Sumatra's ancient forests, caused by fires which are threatening to burn out of control. The team visited Riau, Sumatra, to investigate and document the fires which have now become an annual phenomenon, thanks to the effects of unsustainable logging, and are the cause of a thick smog-like haze over the entire region which threatens the health of millions of people and adds to the problem of climate change.

Greenpeace is calling on the Indonesian government to stop all land clearing operations in fragile forest environments in order to break this annual cycle, which is destroying large tracts of forests in Sumatra, Indonesia, home of some of the world's most endangered animals, like the Sumatran rhinoceros, tiger and the Asian elephant.

Forest clearing for acacia pulpwood and oil palm plantations are the leading causes of the fires and also a factor in creating environmental conditions that perpetuate the problem.

"Most of the forests in the area are peatland forests," Greenpeace forest campaigner Hapsoro said. "Once these peat swamps are exposed due to logging, clearing for canals and concessions, they dry out like a wet sponge exposed to sunlight and become extremely flammable. Unless the conversion of these types of forests is stopped we will continue to experience large scale forest fires and continued environmental destruction on an annual basis."

"The Indonesian government must seriously reconsider allowing any type of land clearing to be done in these areas to minimise the possibility of large and uncontrolled forest fires in Indonesia" he said.

Conversion of peatland and forest fires are also doing environmental damage on a global scale by releasing massive quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere further adding to the problem of climate change.

"Release of CO2 from forests destruction especially fires (human induced or otherwise) exacerbates climate change which in turn creates drier conditions that exacerbate forest fires, locking the planet into a vicious and destructive cycle," Greenpeace South East Asia climate campaigner, Nur Hidayati said. "National, regional and international efforts must be made to protect these forests from illegal logging, forest conversion and fires in order to protect humanity from the

adverse effects of climate change."

There are 4 million hectares of peatland in Riau alone. Large pulp and paper corporations like APP and APRIL are receiving woodchip from logging operations which convert peatland forests in Riau for pulp wood plantations. In the Bukit Batu forest area, Greenpeace found a forest fire located in PT. Satria Perkasa Agung concession - a pulpwood plantation subsidiary company under Sinar Mas Forestry. Sinar Mas Forestry is a sister company of APP. While both companies apply a zero burning policy in their concessions they are still susceptible to fire.

"The problem with these concessions is that they are operating in a very fragile forest ecosystem," Mr Hapsoro said. "One small fire started on the edge of, or accidentally within, these concessions can easily burn all of this dry swamp. Once it starts burning it is very difficult to stop without heavy rain."

Greenpeace calls on the Indonesian government to:

1. Declare the forest fires a national disaster/state of emergency  and to enable movement of resources to combat the fire,

2. Investigate and hold liable plantation companies responsible for  slash and burn clearing,

3. Put in place permanent mechanisms to build capacity to assess  vulnerability, develop regional climate models and design and  assess adaptation strategies that consider the vulnerability of  local communities and indigenous species.

4. To stop all forest clearing in fragile peatland eco-systems,  including the extension of new area for both pulpwood and oil palm  plantation.

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