Originally published on the Eyes on the Forest website
(PEKANBARU) — Eyes on the Forest published NASA’s FIRMS MODIS fire hotspots data and satellite images on its interactive map to allow easy monitoring of current and past fires in Sumatran concessions of the Sinar Mas Group/Asia Pulp & Paper and others. As the region continues to choke in haze from fires in Indonesia and most fires appear to burn in pulpwood plantation concessions on peat, in which plantations have replaced natural forests.
NASA’s Terra-MODIS image on 4 October shows smoke from in and around SMG/APP suppliers’ concessions (red boundary polygons).
Four SMG/APP suppliers in South Sumatra, PT. Bumi Andalas Permai, PT. Bumi Mekar Hijau, PT. Rimba Hutani Mas and PT. Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries, recently received “Preventative Measures Notices” from Singapore’s National Environmental Agency (NEA) for possible transgression of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act. The companies are having serious fire issues this year (Figure 1). EoF analysis of NASA’s FIRMS MODIS fire hotspots data revealed that:
*74% of all high confidence hotspots (or 66% of all hotspots) in Sumatra were detected on peat soil this year (1 January – 11 October) with serious impact on the global climate.
* SMG/APP is the corporate group with the highest number of hotspots this year: 39% of all high confidence hotspots in Sumatra and 53% of all high confidence hotspots on Sumatra’s peat (Table 1).
* The four SMG/APP companies who received NEA notices alone had 37% of all high confidence hotspots in Sumatra and 50% of all high confidence hotspots in Sumatra’s peat (Table 1).
* One of them, PT. Bumi Mekar Hijau, was recently named suspect for allegedly setting fires by the Indonesian Police and Ministry of Environment and Forestry for the second time this year. The company also had a very high number of fire hotspots last year (2,755 hotspots with almost 40% at high confidence level).
SMG/APP suppliers have a long history of fires. The company’s concessions on Riau’s peat had even more fires than those in South Sumatra in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014. This year, Riau province as a whole has had much fewer hotspots than South Sumatra. But the situation may change, the El Niño season is expected to last.
Figure 1. Flames and smoke from the fires in SMG/APP’s four suppliers’ concessions visible on Landsat 8 images in September and October.
This is all bad news for climate and for business plans. A quarter of Sumatra’s carbon rich peat soil is inside pulpwood concessions which make the soil highly flammable and vulnerable to fire due to constant drainage necessary for their acacia plantation to survive.
With 44% of all Sumatran pulpwood concessions on peat, the constant fires and peat subsidence pose a serious question for the long-term sustainability of this business model. SMG/APP and competitor Royal Golden Eagle/APRIL have 67% and 51%, respectively of their concessions in Sumatra on peat (Table 2). How long will they be able to produce wood to make paper? How reliable are their respective predictions for secure and “sustainable” wood supplies? Investors should take note.
NGOs have called
Since SMG/APP started to clear large tracts of peat forest in early 2000, peat experts and NGOs including Eyes on the Forest have called on them to not clear peat forest and develop plantations and the massive drainage system they require. The inherent risks of peat development, fires, subsidence and inundation, have been known for a long time. Yet, SMG/APP suppliers kept converting forest and draining peat – despite the long history of fires in many of their concessions.
SMG/APP suppliers seem to be unable to prevent fires and extinguish them once started on peat, resources continue to burn and carbon is going up in smoke. EoF calls on APP and all other peat concession holders to restore their peat areas wherever feasible, the easiest way to prevent fires.
SMG/APP announced the experimental retirement of 7,000 ha of peat plantation this year. But the company needs to go far beyond this “feel good” gesture. SMG/APP suppliers currently operate approximately 1.4 million hectare of concessions on peat in Sumatra and Kalimantan. The retirement of 0.5% of that huge land bank is clearly much too small a step for this very big company.
Considering the Sumatran paper industry’s likely extreme carbon footprint this year and the devastating impact it appears to be having on health and business of everybody living downwind it needs to do much, much more to prevent this from happening again.
Restoration of peat requires landscape, hydrological unit level design and actions. APP and APRIL, with their respective 1 and 0.5 million hectare restoration and conservation commitments, need to start taking real actions in their own priority peat landscapes of Senepis, Giam Siak Kecil, Kampar, Kerumutan, Berbak-Sembilang and Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI).
It is not enough to just stop deforesting, it is time to reverse course on the ground and not only on paper. The companies need to deal with the legacy of decades of deforestation and its lasting impacts – demonstrated, once again, by this year’s fires.
–NASA’s fire locations are indicative, the satellites may miss fires because of all the smoke their sensors have to look through and the algorithms used to determine hotspot locations may not necessarily identify the exact spot of the fire.
–EoF follows Morton and Defries (2008) recommendation to identify hotspots with higher likelihood of being forest clearing, flaming fires (a Brightness value ≥330 Kelvin and a Confidence value ≥ 30%). Low confidence hotspots indicate lower intensity fires which could indicate burning of grasslands and fields and old or smoldering fires, including fires smoldering on peat.
–WWF-Indonesia (15 August 2015) WWF Comments on APP Peat Announcement. http://www.wwf.or.id/en/?40982/wwf-comments-on-app-peat-announcement