Fidelis E. Satriastanti
A formal government investigation into the clearing of a vast tract of protected peat forest in Aceh has concluded that only one of the two companies involved was at fault, while exonerating a second company of any wrongdoing.
Sudariyono, the deputy for legal compliance at the Environment Ministry, said on Monday that palm oil plantation company Surya Panen Subur 2 “was suspected of burning some 1,183 hectares” of land inside the Tripa peat swamp from March 19 to 24 this year.
“Our suspicion is that a really wide swath of land [was burned] in such a short time, and this indicates that it was systematic, meaning there was an element of intent,” he said.
He added that a second company, Kallista Alam, was believed to have burned some 30 hectares of its 1,605-hectare concession in the peat swamp, but that it was the victim of a bureaucratic foul-up.
“Its permit is suspected to be the problem, because it was issued after the [deforestation] moratorium was implemented,” Sudariyono said.
He added that while the law prohibited the issuance of new concessions on land with peat layers more than three meters deep, the two companies were given concessions for just such an area.
Kallista’s permit, issued by former Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, is currently the subject of a legal challenge by activists, who point out that it was granted after a moratorium map was published that clearly identified Tripa as a protected area.
The Tripa swamp is a key habitat of the Sumatran orangutan, a critically endangered species, with 200 individuals believed to be living in the area.
Sudariyono said the ministry’s investigation team had not found any indications that orangutans might have been killed in the forest fires.
“We have not found any orangutans in the cleared areas, possibly because they ran away,” he said.
Basuki Wasis, a forestry expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), also said there were no indications of any orangutans being killed.
“However, there were six orangutans captured by an NGO, the Leuser Ecosystem Foundation,” he said.
“Four of them have been returned to the forest, while the rest are now at the local nature conservation office.”