Monday, September 21, 2015

APP again blames others for fires, NGOs refute

Eyes on the Forest found two Landsat images showing fires in and around concessions of four Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) suppliers in peat areas in Jambi and South Sumatra provinces and heavy smokes from them.
The companies are PT. Tri Pupajaya, PT. Rimba Hutani Mas, PT. Bumi Andalas Permai and PT. Bumi Mekar Hijau. In Maps 1 and below, Landsat images show visible fires (bright pink dots and areas), indicated by yellow circles. Dark red brown areas are burned peat soil.
"The majority of the fires - more than 90 per cent - come from outside the concessions," Ms Aida Greenbury, APP's managing director of sustainability, told The Straits Times (15 September 2015). "If the rest of the landscape do whatever they want, build whatever drainage canals and burn lands wherever they want, we will be affected. And that's why we have so many hot spots in our operations."
“Although what APP [Aida] claimed might be true in certain cases, they cannot deny the fact that four APP suppliers in Riau have been named suspects of setting fires and under investigation by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. PT. Bumi Mekar Hijau in South Sumatra was also just named a suspect by the police this week,” says Woro Supartinah, Coordinator of Jikalahari.
We think that the investigators who managed to bring these cases to court have proven scientific evidence why the company should be punished in conviction of setting fires,” she added.
Blaming outsiders for fires in their concessions simply reaffirms APP’s failure on zero burning commitment and on legal compliance for fire prevention as reported by UKP4’s report. “And it does not make sense if APP suppliers do not prevent fires from entering their concession area, no matter where the fires started from. Companies are legally responsible to protect their concessions from any kind of illegalities,” she added.
EoF analyzed Landsat images and NASA Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) data for this year to observe development of fire around PT. Rimba Hutani Mas (Map 3). Hotspots with high confidence values started to show up inside concessions since July. At least for this concession, the truth seems to be the other way around – fires spread from inside APP supplier’s concession to outside.
The fires burned APP’s own conservation set asides where Landsat images show illegal logging starting by May 2015. “As Rainforest Alliance pointed out in February this year, APP continues to be unsuccessful to stop illegal logging of forests they committed to protect,” said Woro.
“Many acknowledge that there are economic motives behind fires incident in concession areas. In some case, burning the land is believed to reduce operational cost, to add fertilizer to the soil, reason to claim insurance fee. These are something that public should aware of,” she added.
“APP and other companies are also partly responsible for fires outside the concessions, as draining of peat to manage their own plantations affect the adjacent peat areas. Take a look at Giam Siak Kecil and Senepis peat landscapes in Riau province where APP’s peat development have caused destruction and repeating peat fire,” says Riko Kurniawan, Director Executive of WALHI Riau.
“It is ridiculous we all suffer every year because of their continuing business as usual but they continue to excuse themselves each time by blaming others,” Riko added.
“On top of that, probably a lot of these areas were deep peat and protected by law from development in the first place, for the exact reason that such ecosystem is vulnerable, Riko said. “In Riau province alone, many concessions on peat were obtained through corruption to ignore such laws. We ask the government for review of these concessions and completely protect peatlands from exploitation.”
EoF and Riau NGOs found that there are 56 timber suppliers of APP and APRIL that detected having  fire hotspots during January – August 2015.
While there are 38 palm oil plantations that recorded having hotspots in the same period. Riau NGOs would file reports to the police of alleged involvement of PT Ruas Utama Jaya and PT Arara Abadi (APP) and PT Sumatera Riang Lestari (APRIL) in setting fires.
“APP recently announced a new program to improve peat management. They should seriously re-consider the issues of plantation development on peat soil,” says Nursamsu, EoF National Coordinator.
“APP had already committed to 1 million hectares conservation and restoration and these concessions are part of landscapes they selected. It is time for APP to put the two together to really make efforts into true restoration of these peat ecosystems to help Sumatra reduce annual peat fires and haze.”
President Joko Widodo said Wednesday that the executives, owners and directors of companies involved in setting fires should be blacklisted and banned from doing business.

Map 1. Landsat 8 of 5 September 2015 shows some fires (inside yellow circles) and burned areas (dark red-brown) inside and outside APP supplier PT. Rimba Hutani Mas concession and fires getting close to another APP supplier, PT. Tri Pupajaya concession. The image also shows smokes from fire.

Map 2. Landsat 8 of 14 September 2015 shows some fires (inside yellow circles) and burned areas (dark red-brown) inside and outside APP suppliers PT. Bumi Andalas Permai and PT. Bumi Mekar Hijau and smokes.

Map 3. Landsat images from May to September and NASA FIRMS fire data seem to suggest that many fires actually started inside PT. Rimba Hutani Mas concession and sometimes spread outside.

** For fire data, we used standard / science quality version (MCD14ML) and only showed hotspots with a brightness value greater than or equal to 330 Kelvin and a confidence value greater than or equal to 30%. The data is produced by the University of Maryland and provided by NASA FIRMS operated by NASA/GSFC/ESDIS with funding provided by NASA/HQ, available on-line

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Indonesia arrests seven company executives for illegal forest fires

According to The Straits Times, Indonesian police nabbed seven corporate executives on September 16 in connection with illegal forest fires across Sumatra and Kalimantan, as part of a wide-ranging effort to arrest the haze crisis. Suspects from the latest bust included a senior executive from Bumi Mekar Hijau, a unit of Singapore-based Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which is also Indonesia's largest pulp and paper producer. The national impetus, revealed on Wednesday, includes deploying more police to help with firefighting and handling probes against culprits, and increasing cloud-seeding sorties to douse the blazes, especially those burning on dry peatlands.
The Straits Times reported that the national police have identified firms such as Bumi Mekar Hijau for environmental crimes. A senior executive from the South Sumatra-based firm, identified by his initials JLT, was arrested yesterday morning and is currently being interrogated. An APP spokesman, responding to queries from The Straits Times, said last night it was "not aware of any new formal police charges against any of our suppliers at this time". She maintained that APP has operated a "zero burning" policy in its supply chain since 1996.
Senior members from six other companies accused of similar offences were also picked up yesterday for questioning, General Badrodin added. Bumi Mekar Hijau, which has pulpwood concessions in Ogan Komering Ilir in South Sumatra, is still facing trial for a separate civil case in the Palembang.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry had previously demanded that Bumi Mekar Hijau pay 7.8 trillion rupiah (S$780 million) to the state for damages from burning land. If found guilty again this time, the company's management could be jailed for up to 10 years.
This year, provincial police units in the six areas affected by the haze have been investigating 24 companies and 126 individuals for breaching environmental laws. According to figures from Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, estimates show 52,000ha of land in Sumatra were ravaged by fire, while 138,000ha in Kalimantan were scorched. However, the number of hot spots recorded thus far this year remains fewer than that recorded last year, said the BNPB.
Several parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan have been ravaged by forest fires in recent weeks because of the dry season, which was exacerbated by the El Nino effect.
National police chief Badrodin Haiti told reporters that he has deployed 682 officers, including 68 investigators, to affected areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan, to reinforce firefighters and soldiers already on the ground.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Indonesian president Joko Widodo calls on strong measure against companies burning forest

Indonesian president Joko Widodo called stern measures against companies involved in forest and land fires burning by rescinding their licenses, media report said. Sumatra and Kalimantan provinces are hit by forest fires and thick haze that paralyzed air transportation, closed schools and escalating upper respiratory infection suffered by residents due to hazardous levels of air pollution index.
“I already gave the order to the forestry minister: take firm action against the perpetrators,” Joko told reporters at Jakarta’s Halim Perdanakusuma air base on Sunday as quoted as saying by The Jakarta Globe on Monday. Joko visited a palm oil concession in Ogan Komering Ilir district raged by fires.
“I've already ordered the National Police chief to take firm action, to mete out the harshest punishment for companies that fail to obey [a prohibition in slash-and-burn forest clearing],” the president said.
The President said he had asked the Minister of Environment and Forestry to revoke the operating licenses of companies found guilty of setting such fires igniting fires, and the police to impose criminal charges against them.
President Joko said companies who have interest in the forestry should be responsible to protect their forest [land]. "However, [they] have to be responsible too for [protecting] its right or left side, for rights that we granted to them,” he added.
Last week National Disaster Mitigation Agency estimated that 25,6 millions of Sumatra and Kalimantan’s residents were impacted to haze from forest and peatland fires. While, 80 percent of Sumatra’s area is blanketed by thick haze causing health threats. In Riau alone, there 12,000 residents whom detected suffering upper respiratory infection disease.
In Jambi, KKI Warsi, an environmental NGO, published a fires hotspot distribution map showing that most of hotspots blanketing the province was found in industrial timber plantation (HTI license) and palm oil concessions (see map below).
By concessions, Eyes on the Forest analyzed that during 31 August to 7 September 2015 there are 78 fire hotspots detected where timber plantation concessions (HTI) had 42 hotspots and palm oil plantation (HGU) with 36 hotspots. While, Tesso Nilo National Park and Bukit Betabuh protected forest are the conservation areas that severely raged by burning that believed from encroachment perpetrators converting forest to palm oil plantation.
Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, said that some concessions that raged by fires in August had been marked with police line and no more fire hotspots found there now (Antaranews, 7 Sep). EoF analyzed that in areas where usual fires and hotspots detected like in Bengkalis, Dumai, Rokan Hilir, Pelalawan and Rokan Hulu there were no many hotspots this month, despite the air quality in Pekanbaru reached the worst level this year on Monday.
A legislator at House of Representatives said that forest fire burning is a crime that must be eradicated and the perpetrators should be brought to justice. Dwi Astuti Wulandari from Democrat Party said that slash and burning method in forests is a way to prepare new plantation land that mostly hit the tropical rainforest in the country.
To provide a deterrent effect to perpetrators of fires burning, the law enforcers should also reveal those who commanded and ordered the arson, she added.
In Pekanbaru, Walhi Riau and group of Riau students held rally in front of Riau Governor and Police Office protesting the government who fail to protect the people from annual forest fire that caused disrupting thick haze. “It has been 18 years that Riau suffered the misery due to forest fires and haze,” said Riko Kurniawan of Walhi Riau, told EoF.
The protesters called on the Government to bring the companies involved in the burning to the justice and evacuate Riau residents due to the province is not healthy to live in due to worsening air quality that on Monday morning reached 810 hazardous level.
From Palembang, Walhi South Sumatra published a press release saying that the visit of President to a concession of palm oil that raged by fires was not enough if there is no further law enforcement against the perpetrators.
Hadi Jatmiko, the director executive of Walhi South Sumatra, doubted that law enforcement could be upheld against big companies like timber plantation concessions associated to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) like PT Bumi Mekar Hijau in Ogan Komering Ilir district that caused the State loss of IDR 7.9 trillion. Hadi also cited PT Rimba Hutani Mas, APP supplier located in Musi Banyuasin district, who since 2014 until this week had fire hotspots detected, but there is not law enforcement conducted by the Government, Antaranews reported Monday.
As shown by NASA Firms Eosdis data, Sembilang – Berbak forest landscape is the area that also hit severely by fires this week. APP announced last month that they plan to restore the deep peatlands in the landscape that located in Jambi and South Sumatra as part of their better practice management of peatlands in the country along with Deltares, a Dutch consultant firm.
In Jambi, KKI Warsi published recent fire hotspot map that overlaid with timber plantation and palm oil concessions where some famous concessions like PT WKS, PT LAJ are hit by fires.