Environmental group, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), may have lost the first battle in its fight against deforestation in Tripa Peat Swamp, Aceh, but the group have now won support from a government-sanctioned task force.
The Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) task force visited the area last month when Walhi, and other local green groups, were awaiting a verdict on a lawsuit they had filed against the Aceh administration for issuing a concession permit to PT Kallista Alam.
The Aceh Administrative Court delivered its verdict in favor of the administration on April 3 and Walhi filed an appeal the day after.
Outgoing Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf had signed the permit last August, allowing the company to convert a 1,605-hectare plot of protected peatland forest in the Nagan Raya district into oil palm plantations.
Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan plans to visit Aceh later this month to meet with the newly elected governor Zaini Abdullah and discuss forestry conditions in Aceh, including the Tripa peat land.
The Forestry Ministry’s spokesman, Sumarto Suharno, said the ministry had banned the issuance of new permits since 2009. “The outgoing Aceh governor signed the new permit in 2011, two years after the ban was imposed,” he said.
Environmental activists also have pointed out that the Tripa peat land area is part of the Leuser ecosystem and that the permit jeopardizes a moratorium on forest clearing, which was issued in June 2011.
The moratorium map initially covered 10.7 hectares of peat land, including the Tripa Peat Swamp, protecting them against new permits.
However, the Tripa peat-land area was removed from the map through a forestry ministerial decree, issued last November, because data from the National Land Agency (BPN) indicated that the area was suitable for commercial development.
According to a report issued by the Presidential Unit for the Supervision and Control of Development (UKP3S), led by Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who is also the REDD task force chairman, the company, which should never have received the permit, had allegedly begun clearing the land prior to the permit’s issuance.
“Walhi and the REDD task force found out that the company had used a slash-and-burn method to clear the area. The fires were within a 12-kilometer radius,” Walhi Aceh’s head of advocacy and campaigns, M. Nizar Abdurrani, said on Tuesday.
He added that many animals, such as deer and anteaters, which had managed to escape the flames by entering local villages, had been killed by locals. The REDD task force findings that were released recently supported the activists’ claims.
In a press release made available to The Jakarta Post, the team said that PT Kallista Alam’s plantation was located within the Leuser ecosystem zone. Based on a sampling, they also discovered that the area was covered in thick moss and was part of protected peat-land forest.
The task force has determined that the Aceh administration could also be charged under the 2004 Plantations Law; the 2009 Environmental Protection and Management Law; and the 2007 Spatial Planning Law. (tas)