NGO executive urges prioritization of efforts to fill up canals in peat domes

( - Many pulpwood and palm oil concessions are operating in peat domes without any transparency by concealing actual data on the depth level of the peat. For example, there are some companies that claim to be operating in areas of shallow peat while in fact the peat level is deep.

It is also not uncommon to come across cases in which companies have manipulated peat depth data when applying for a permit from the government, including in their environmental impact assessment documents.

Inaccurate environmental impact assessment documents are misleading and can be harmful, as these documents are key to monitoring the environmental impact caused by the operations of companies as a result of the clearing and draining of deep-lying peat.

To prevent any further serious environmental damage brought about by the exploitation of these peat domes, the filling up all canals found in the peat domes scattered among pulpwood and palm oil concessions needs to be prioritized.

The Director of the Wetlands International-Indonesia Programme, Nyoman Suryadiputra, brought up these issues during an interview with (May 25).

With respect to pulpwood plantation concessions, Nyoman strongly urged that the acacia species which has already been planted in peatlands, and even more so in peat domes, no longer be planted after harvesting has taken place. He added that the acacia should be replaced by plants suitable for peatlands that do not require canals.

He stressed that this is not only true for pulpwood but also for palm oil plantations, explaining that revegetation using wetland plants is needed in peatlands that have been drained to make way for such plantations.

The government needs to prioritize its efforts to fill up all canals found in peat domes in which acacia and palm oil plantations are operating and stop all operations in these peat domes.

Nyoman also reaffirmed that there should be no reluctance whatsoever to incorporate peat domes into protection zones, regardless of whether there are pulpwood or palm oil concessions located there.

He emphasized that the peat restoration agency formed by President Joko Widodo in early January this year should be playing a significant role in preventing the recurrence of business-as-usual practices in Indonesian peatlands, particularly in the seven priority provinces.

Simply leaving these companies alone to carry on with their business-as-usual practices is tantamount to allowing the ever greater destruction of peatlands to go ahead, in particular that of peat domes, Nyoman cautioned.

It was previously reported that the Chief of the Peat Restoration Agency, Nazir Foead, revealed that the restoration of 2.26 million hectares of peatlands is planned. 77 percent of this area lies in cultivation areas, the majority of which currently consist of pulpwood and palm oil concessions. The remainder of these peatland areas are in conservation and protection areas.

As to the takeover of burned areas in forestry concessions by the government, the Minister of the Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya, issued a ministerial regulation in mid-December last year. Pulpwood concessions are one kind of forestry concession.

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP)-linked concessions operating in peatlands are the largest pulpwood concession areas to be taken over by the government for restoration, in the wake of the extremely serious peat fires of 2015 which took place on these concessions and afflicted hundreds of thousands of hectares.