18 July 2012 - Tempo Interactive.  The Tripa peat swamp, one with the largest capacity to store carbon in Aceh, is near complete ruin. Investigations carried out by a joint team continue to scour for criminal violations that destroyed the once rich peatland forest.

In the middle of a vast, burned down forest littered with charred, blackened tree trunks, Basuki Wasis instructs one of his staffers to stick a pipe into the ground. One enters right through and stops at a meter deep. A second and then a third pipe sinks easily into the swamp land. The fourth sinks, and then stops at just forty centimeters deep.

After taking ground samples, Basuki records his findings in a pocket notebook – this was land with peat layers of 3.6 meters deep. “This is evidence of a violation committed via planting on peatland,” Basuki told Tempo, who accompanied the researcher from the Bogor Agricultural Institute during the drilling of pipes into the burned swamp land two weeks ago.

On this burned land controlled by palm oil plantation company Kallista Alam, they also gathered samples of charred trees and mounds of ash. “This is further proof to take Kallista Alam to court,” said Bayu Hardjanto, an investigator from the Ministry of Environment.

This land used to be the lush Tripa peatland forest, located within the protected Leuser Ecosystem, and referred to as the country’s lungs in the heart of the tsunami-plagued Aceh province. Tripa used to be teeming with one of the world’s populations of critically-endangered Sumatran orangutans. Tripa had the largest and the most critical capacity to store carbon in Aceh. A permit to convert the peat swamp had been issued to Kallista Alam by then Aceh Governor Irwandy Yusuf on August 25, 2011 – three months following the issuance of an indicative map for protected forests, identifying Tripa as a protected zone.

The license granted to Kallista involved 1,605 hectares of the peat swamp.

The indicative map of protected forests was drawn up in May 2011 and used in line with a ban on new clearing permits for an area of about 60 million hectares of forests and peatlands, launched under President Yudhoyono’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) program. The presidential instruction on the ban was issued on May 20 of 2011. There is also a law in place prohibiting the issuance of new concessions on land with peat layers more than three meters deep.

Despite this, Kallista Alam and Surya Panen Subur (SPS) 2, another plantation company, received concessions in Tripa. A lawsuit filed by Indonesia’s largest environmental group, Walhi, on November 23 of last year to have that license revoked was thrown out on April 2
this year by the Banda Aceh Administrative Court. Walhi has since appealed.

Ground checks and investigations carried out this year by a joint team from the Ministry of Forestry, REDD+ Task Force and the Ministry of Environment found evidence that Tripa had not just been cleared out and replanted with palm oil plantations, it had been burned,
slashed and thoroughly drained, thus gradually releasing carbon dioxide.

This joint team first flew into Aceh for the Tripa investigation on May 4. They had been accompanied by investigators from the National Police and the Attorney General’s Office.

The team works under the guidance of REDD+ task force chief Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who heads the Presidential Unit for Development, Supervision and Oversight (UKP4),
The Tripa peatland forest is now on the brink of ruin. In the 1980s, this forest covered no less than 62 thousand hectares. Today, it extends to no more than 17 thousand hectares – and it continues to be razed off. There have been indications of arson in recent fires at the protected peat forest, according to the Environment Ministry, with strong indications that the culprits are companies waiting to convert the forested regions into palm oil plantations.

This is despite the fact that Tripa has been slotted back into the indicative map, better known as the moratorium map, this year. On May 21, UKP4 announced that an additional 379 thousand hectares had been added to the map. The protected area covered in the revision
– which is the second since the ban came into effect – amounts to 65.75 million hectares of peatlands, primary forests and conservation areas.

The first revision of the map occurred on November 20, 2011 and had come under intense media scrutiny – it had scrapped the Tripa forest off it. This was a reason used by Kallista Alam to point out that since Tripa had been scrapped off the map, converting the forest into a plantation on the basis of a permit issued by the Aceh Governor was consistent with existing regulations. However, the joint team investigating the Tripa case learned eventually that forest clearing activities by Kallista Alam dated back to years before 2011.


 

A broader investigative piece on the Tripa forest devastation is featured in this week’s TEMPO English Edition magazine.


 

reported by Untung Widyanto (Aceh), Jajang Jamaluddin, Gita Lal (Jakarta) and reprinted from endoficons.wordpress.com