Peat mapping seen as invalid excuse for restoration slowdown

(foresthints.news) - Considering that the establishment of the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) in early January 2016 was intended to accelerate the restoration of 2015’s burned peatlands, the legacy of the peat agency can be measured simply by looking at how many hectares of these burned peat areas have indeed been restored. 

Most of the locations where peat was burned in 2015 were mapped by the Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry, and were subsequently used by the peat agency as the basis for its indicative targeted peat restoration map which was released in mid-September two years ago.

Now, however, it appears that there is a deliberate move to use the ‘inadequate issue’ of Indonesia's existing peat maps to vindicate the peat agency’s much slower than expected progress in peat restoration.

“It’s certainly completely irrelevant, in a technical, legal and policy sense, to come up with this new excuse (to explain) that the very slow progress in restoring 2015’s burned peatlands is because the Indonesian peat maps are not up-to-date and inadequate." 

This key point was emphasized by Dr Ruandha Agung Sugardiman, Senior Advisor to Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister, when talking to foresthints.news (Mar 1) at the ministry building.

According to Ruandha, having been given a mandate for peat restoration, the peat agency found it very easy to produce an executing map for 2015’s burned peat restoration, among other things, based on legal government data and information, backed up by other relevant satellite data and later complemented by field checks - in the early months of its assignment. 

“Now the public has started to ask how many hectares of 2015’s burned peatlands have been restored and where they are. There should be no excuse made, (pretending) as if the slow pace of 2015’s burned peat restoration is technically related to the 'inaccuracy' of the existing Indonesian peat maps,” he asserted.

When it comes to peat mapping-related issues, one of the most shameful examples serially exposed by foresthints.news concerns the grave error committed by a LiDAR mapping team under the coordination of the WRI (World Resources Institute), in which hundreds of thousands of hectares of 2015’s burned peat forests were wrongly classified as secondary peat swamp forests.

The photos below, depicting 2015’s burned peat forests in Central Kalimantan’s Pulang Pisau regency which were misclassified as secondary peat swamp forests, highlight the erroneous and inept findings of the aforementioned WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping team.

In fact, the production of these seriously flawed maps by the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping team was tantamount to omitting evidence of the hundreds of thousands of hectares of peat forests burned in 2015. This is especially frustrating given that the restoration of 2015’s burned peat forests and land was the primary consideration underlying the formation of the peat agency. 

The following two photos are further examples of just how inaccurate the land cover classification carried out by the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping team was.

Just 10.12% of target met

A peat agency report delivered to President Joko Widodo’s office, recently obtained by foresthints.news, shows that the agency - out of its target of restoring two million hectares composed mainly of 2015’s burned peatlands - has reached a mere 10.12% of this figure.

In other words, the peat agency still has to achieve almost 90% more of its target in the next three years.

Taking into account the opinions expressed by Ruandha, alongside the very unsatisfactory peat restoration target thus far fulfilled, most notably in 2015’s burned peat areas, the only conclusion to be drawn is that the peat agency’s slow performance is in no way associated with the existing peat maps.

In concluding the conversation, Dr Ruandha stressed the following. “I am not criticizing the peat agency's performance itself, but what I am criticizing is the use of a new excuse conveyed to the public, the seeming motivation of which is to justify that the peat agency's performance slowdown is because the existing peat maps are not up-to-date. It's this excuse that I'm criticizing."