Pulp giant company returns permit after uncontrolled peat fires exposed

(foresthints.news) - In early April 2015, research-based NGO Greenomics Indonesia revealed the findings of its spatial monitoring which showed that a pulpwood concession situated in Indonesian Borneo belonging to PT BMH, which is also a long-term supplier and subsidiary of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), had been ravaged by uncontrolled and massive peat fires.

Mongabay previously covered this incident in a news report (Apr 6, 2015), touching on both the NGO report as well as the reaction from APP regarding the devastating peat fires in forested peatlands spanning an area of 4,000 hectares, the equivalent of more than 10,000 acres.

In addition to owning a large pulpwood concession in South Sumatra province covering an area of over 250,000 hectares, PT BMH also holds a pulpwood concession permit in West Kalimantan for more than 25,000 hectares.

As it turns out, APP’s Forest Conservation Policy, which was declared in early February 2013, has proven unable to put an end to peat fires afflicting the two pulpwood concessions in question, which are located in two of Indonesia’s major islands.

Permit returned

In mid-May 2015, PT BMH, whose concession straddles Sambas regency and the city of Singkawang in West Kalimantan, sent a letter to the Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry requesting that its pulpwood concession permit be returned.

The basis for this request on the part of the APP company, as put forth in the letter, was that for social and technical reasons, pulpwood plantation development was difficult to achieve in this pulpwood concession area.

Subsequently, in early April last year, the ministry issued a letter declaring that the APP company’s request had met all the relevant conditions.

Later in the year, in mid-July, the Chairman of the Indonesian Investment Coordination Board (BKPM), on behalf of the Environment and Forestry Minister, revoked PT BMH’s permit that had originally been granted to it in early May 2007.

Early warning given

Previously, in early December 2013, Greenomics warned APP by means of a report about the effects of the expansion of its pulpwood plantation development in Indonesian Borneo, including in the PT BMH concession, especially in the wake of the declaration of its forest conservation policy.

In its response to Mongabay (Dec 4, 2013), APP, one of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies, asserted that it planned to fully adhere to its forest conservation policy.

However, unfortunately, and irrespective of the various reasons put forward by the company, APP’s commitment to its forest conservation policy was not at all apparent in the Google Earth images shown below, depicting the huge scale of uncontrolled peat fires which had completely destroyed a forested peatland landscape greater than the area of 4,000 soccer fields.

Burned peat restoration questioned

Vanda Mutia Dewi, Executive Director of Greenomics Indonesia, has questioned whether APP was really taking responsibility for peat restoration after the return of PT BMH’s permit to the government.

“Did APP simply return the permit and afterwards neglect any responsibility it has towards peat restoration after the peat fires in the PT BMH concession? And is this what the working model for APP’s forest conservation policy is really like?” asked Vanda (Jan 31).

The province of West Kalimantan is one of seven peat restoration priority provinces designated by President Joko Widodo in early January last year.

The President has repeatedly demonstrated a strong focus on preventing the extensive peat fires that adversely affect Indonesia each year, and has taken explicit action in this respect. In fact, the President recently issued a warning that there would be no compromises whatsoever when it comes to law enforcement measures aimed at ending the scourge of forest and land fires in Indonesia.