NGO questions peat agency’s approach in light of LiDAR mapping

(foresthints.news) - The Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency’s decision to neglect prioritizing LiDAR mapping in pulpwood concessions in South Sumatra province whose peatlands were severely burned is hugely regrettable and gives rise to many questions.

These were the concerns expressed by Hadi Jatmiko, Executive Director of WALHI South Sumatra (Indonesian Friends of the Earth), to foresthints.news (Jun 18) when asked for his response to the coverage of the peat agency’s LiDAR mapping.

“The peat agency’s LiDAR mapping should really cover those concessions whose peatlands were extensively burned in 2015, amounting to hundreds of thousands of hectares, most notably pulpwood concessions under the control of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP),” Hadi explained.

He added that the decision not to prioritize those concessions badly burned as a result of 2015’s peat fires in the peat agency’s LiDAR mapping is certainly questionable.

Based on the peat agency’s indicative targeted peat restoration map, there are four APP pulpwood concessions whose peatlands were seriously burned due to 2015’s vast peat fires.

These four pulpwood concessions are located in two peatland restoration priority regencies in South Sumatra. None of these pulpwood concessions, however, has been covered by the peat agency’s LiDAR mapping.

“We are questioning the performance of the peat agency in light of the fact that its LiDAR mapping does not extend to these APP pulpwood concessions which were so terribly burned in 2015,” Hadi asserted.

The following two peat agency maps indicate the distribution of 2015’s burned peat areas in South Sumatra’s forestry concessions that were excluded from the peat agency’s LiDAR mapping.

Astonishingly, as seen in the maps, not a single hectare of APP’s pulpwood concessions, ravaged by 2015’s peat fires, formed part of the peat agency’s LiDAR mapping.

Strict supervision needed

WALHI South Sumatra, in addition to conveying its regrets and questioning the reasoning behind the peat agency’s failure to take into account badly-burned APP pulpwood concessions in its LiDAR mapping, has also appealed for the peat agency not to select areas of interest in its LiDAR mapping based on non-technical matters.

Instead, Hadi urged the peat agency to ensure that peat restoration efforts are carried out on the ground level in 2015’s burned peat areas spread among concessions, particularly South Sumatra’s APP pulpwood concessions.

He also explained that the peat agency’s LiDAR mapping is essential for reinforcing the determination of peat zonation in APP’s pulpwood concessions burned in 2015, considering that significant swathes of 2015’s burned peat in these concessions consist of deep peat and peat domes.

Furthermore, Hadi also requested that the peat agency make sure that tight supervision is in place on the ground level.

“There must be strict supervision by the peat agency on a ground-level basis. There can be no recurrence of any replanting practices, as took place in 2015’s burned peat areas in APP’s pulpwood concessions. This was made possible owing to a lack of supervision from the peat agency. This kind of situation cannot be repeated,” he implored.

The following photos depict the replanting of 2015’s burned peat areas in APP’s pulpwood concessions, which were incorporated into the peat agency’s indicative targeted peat restoration map but subsequently not monitored by the agency.

Peat agency’s reaction

The peat agency responded to the level of coverage of its LiDAR mapping by pointing out that all of APP’s pulpwood concessions in Sumatra, as well as some in Indonesian Borneo, have been subject to LiDAR mapping by the paper giant itself. In fact, the agency claimed, APP performed this LiDAR mapping prior to 2015’s huge peat fires.

According to Peat Restoration Agency Chief Nazir Foead (Jun 19), after considering the resources and time available to it, the peat agency took the decision that those areas already mapped using the LiDAR surveying method, in this case APP’s pulpwood concessions, would not require LiDAR mapping again.

Nazir elaborated further on the matter: “We asked for the results of the LiDAR mapping conducted by APP to be submitted to the peat agency for verification before being used as a source of data.”

Nonetheless, with respect to Nazir’s explanation, the public deserves to be made aware of a strong concern. That is, APP’s LiDAR mapping only used a 5km airborne sampling method, according to Nazir.

The map below shows the locations of the LiDAR mapping performed by APP before 2015’s peat fires (the areas in various colours) along with the distribution of the peat agency’s LiDAR mapping (the areas in white) carried out after 2015’s peat fires using a comprehensive method.

The majority of 2015’s burned peat areas covered by the peat agency’s LiDAR mapping in South Sumatra’s OKI regency are situated in the Padang Sugihan Wildlife Reserve.

In contrast, the agency’s decision not to cover certain forestry concessions whose peatlands were substantially burned in 2015, including APP’s pulpwood concessions - instead relying on APP’s own insufficient data - means that the Indonesian government still does not have sufficient LiDAR data pertaining to these severely-burned forestry concessions.

The main consideration underlying the establishment of the peat agency by President Joko Widodo in early January 2016 was to accelerate the restoration of 2015’s burned peat areas, significant parts of which extended to concession areas. 

Keeping this primary consideration in mind, it seems more than reasonable for WALHI to question why forestry concessions, located in South Sumatra’s peat restoration priority regencies, which have suffered hundreds of thousands of hectares of burned peatlands, were not given priority in terms of being covered by the peat agency’s LiDAR mapping.