Ground level facts at odds with APP company’s letter of request to ministry

JAKARTA (foresthints.news) - In the recently passed year of 2016, one of the law enforcement measures which received the most attention of relevant forestry stakeholders was the issuance of a letter by Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister in early December instructing three Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) companies to remove all newly-replanted acacia from all the peatlands spread across their concessions burned by the widespread fires of 2015.

In mid-December 2016, foresthints.news took the initiative of asking both APP and Sinarmas Forestry Group their opinions on the instruction letter from the minister. By the passing of the deadline given, however, no response had been received from either party.

In light of this, foresthints.news set out to verify the reasons behind the ministry’s statement that the APP companies concerned have committed peat violations by looking into the letters of request sent by two APP companies (PT BMH and PT SBAWI) to the ministry with respect to the clearing and replanting of 2015’s fire-ravaged areas. This reporting chose to use the PT BMH situation as a case study.

Permission for burned non-peat development requested

In late May 2016, one of the APP companies involved, PT BMH, which operates in South Sumatra province, among the most severely affected provinces in 2015’s peat fires, sent a letter to the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry requesting permission to clear and replant non-peat areas burned in that year.

This request was extremely clear in that the letter specifically pertained to the clearing and replanting of non-peat areas burned in 2015.

Prior to this, in late March 2016, a similar letter of request was also sent by another APP company, PT SBAWI, whose concession is situated adjacent to PT BMH’s. In fact, the subject of this letter was exactly the same as that of the PT BMH letter.

In the letter from PT BMH to the ministry, it is clearly stated that part of their working area, which was burned in 2015 and in which plantation-zoned blocks are found, does not constitute peatlands.

The letter from this APP company then goes on to explicitly request permission for the clearing of land and replanting of acacia only in areas burned in 2015 which are not made up of peatlands.

The PT BMH’s letter was addressed to Dr Putera Parthama, the Ministry’s Director General of Sustainable Production Forest Management. In late June 2016, the Director General, in his capacity as an authorized official at the ministry, replied to it.

In his reply, the Director General declared his support for the clearing of land, specifically in non-peat areas burned in 2015 as a way of preventing any future land and forest fires. Replanting, meanwhile, could be commenced once the results of field verifications, both on mineral lands and peatlands, were finalized.

At odds with facts on the ground

During October and November last year, the ministry sent letters to pulp and paper players in Indonesia, including APP, asking them to submit all data considered relevant to the ministry’s peat protection efforts. This included all data on areas throughout APP’s concessions that were burned in 2015.

The data submitted by APP to the ministry included its own version of areas burned in the PT BMH concession, keeping in mind that the ministry itself had also identified these burned areas in an indicative manner.

A ground check was then initiated by the ministry to observe the latest situation on the ground level in locations where the ministry’s burned peatland data and that of the company matched.

As already stated, the letter of request from PT BMH to the ministry, as well as the reply to it from the Director General, clearly referred to land clearing and acacia replanting exclusively in non-peat areas in the context of preventing any future land and forest fires.

The ground inspection, however, revealed the facts to be completely different to what was mentioned in PT BMH’s letter of request, in that burned peatlands - as opposed to non-peat areas - had already been cleared and recently replanted with acacia.

These photos, which derive from the ministry’s monitoring efforts, illustrate the ground-level facts, proving that the APP company has indeed been clearing and replanting burned peatlands, rather than non-peat burned areas.

It was thus unsurprising in a legal sense that the ministry acted quickly to deal with this situation.

In early December 2016, the minister sent the same letter to PT BMH and the other APP companies concerned, PT SBAWI and PT BAP, among other things ordering them to immediately terminate all land-clearing and acacia replanting in burned peatlands, as well as to remove all acacia that had been recently replanted in burned peatlands in their concessions.

The concessions of the three APP companies in question are located in South Sumatra’s Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) regency, adjacent to each other in a single landscape measuring more than half a million hectares. These concessions contributed significantly to the areas of peatland burned in 2015.