Ministry official refutes report alleging burned peat replanting authorized

JAKARTA (foresthints.news) - Indonesia’s Ministry of the Environment and Forestry has reiterated that no legal authorization was ever granted to the giant conglomerate Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) to replant acacia in last year’s burned peatlands scattered across the island of Sumatra, especially in its three concessions in South Sumatra province.

“I need to emphasize that what has been reported by mongabay.com is legally and technically incorrect. The reporting by mongabay.com is not based on the letter that I sent to the APP companies concerned,” Dr Putera Prathama, the Ministry’s Director General of Sustainable Production Forest Management, told foresthints.news on Thursday (Dec 22) at the ministry office.

“My letter specifically addressed the clearing of non-peatland areas burned in last year’s fires as a way of avoiding any future land and forest fires,” Putera explained.

The Director General made this assertion in reaction to a story from mongabay.com (Dec 22) titled “As accusations fly, paper giant appears to stand by its replanting of burned peat in Sumatra”.

He went on to say that the clearing of land for the purpose of fire prevention, as he conveyed to mongabay.com, was not the same as replanting acacia in burned areas.

“The clearing of land in burned areas for the purpose of fire prevention is allowed by collecting already burned trees in order to prevent the accumulation of fire-prone biomass which may lead to forest fires, especially in non-peatland burned areas.”

He also reaffirmed that since early November 2015, all pulpwood companies whose concessions include burned areas, and in particular burned peatlands, are obliged to revise their 10-year work plans.

“In my letter from mid-May 2016 in response to a letter from one of the APP companies operating in South Sumatra, I also asked the company to revise its 10-year work plan. However, the fact is that of the APP companies whose concessions contain significant amounts of burned peatlands, none have revised their work plans as yet,” bemoaned the Director General.

The Director General was keen to clarify the following: “There is no policy inconsistency on the prohibition of replanting acacia in burned peatlands, as was indicated in the mongabay.com report. I hope that no more misleading news will come from mongabay.com in the future.”

Putera also explained that a warning letter was sent by the Ministry's Director General of Law Enforcement in August 2016 to one of the APP companies whose peatlands were very severely burned. In the letter, the company was asked to comply with the ministerial regulation issued in mid-December last year.

“What this means is that there are legal procedures that must be followed by the APP companies involved before they are allowed to operate in burned areas. However, these procedures have not been complied with by the APP companies, considering that their 10-year work plans have not been revised.”

The Director General also explained that there was nothing wrong with a letter sent by his director in August of this year to the APP companies, because replanting of burned areas is only permitted for fire prevention, and only those pulpwood companies that have revised their 10-year work plans may use the letter to maintain the target of their production plans.

“My director's letter does not stand on its own legally. It's not as if the letter served as a green light for replanting burned areas, especially burned peatlands.”

Putera thus took the opportunity to reconfirm that the replanting of acacia in burned peatlands by APP companies was actually in contravention of the prevailing regulations.

These pictures show how the APP companies (PT BAP and PT BMH) have replanted acacia in burned peatlands before revising their 10-year work plans, an act that clearly violates legal procedures.

Acacia removal still essential

On the same occasion, the Ministry's Director General of Forestry Planology and Environmental Governance, Professor San Afri Awang, added that the letter signed by him on behalf of the Environment and Forestry Minister ordering the removal of all acacia planted in the three APP burned peatland concession areas (PT BAP, PT BMH and PT SBAWI) must still be carried out by the APP companies.

“Nothing has changed. The three APP companies must remove the acacia that they planted in the burned peatlands. If they fail to comply with this in accordance with the deadline given, then law enforcement will be applied, for example by reducing their concession areas,” he warned.

Professor San Afri stressed that he had explained to APP's owner that the replanting of acacia in burned peatlands by the APP companies constituted a clear violation.

“At the beginning of October this year, in a meeting, the owner of APP asked our minister if the replanting of acacia in burned areas was allowed. The answer from our minister was that it is not allowed. The owner of APP heard this answer directly from our minister.”

In conclusion, the Director General said that his ministry had conducted a comprehensive legal analysis before asking APP to remove the acacia replanted in burned peatlands.