Guest blog by Jeffrey Chatellier and Devan Wardwell. Jeffrey and Devan work on the ground on our Sumatra Merang Peatland Project in Indonesia, for our implementing partner Forest Carbon. They help to manage project activities to combat local drivers of deforestation, including the risk of spreading fire from illegal land clearances. Read more about this project here. The original blog can be found here.
In New York, and in protests around the world this week, everyone is wondering how to stop our world’s tropical forests from literally being engulfed in flames — and exacerbating climate change in the process.
The sense of global frustration at the tragedy of the fires in the Amazon, and now Indonesia is palpable. Yet there is a solution which is being implemented on the ground that is working. The following fire data can speak for itself, demonstrating that active forest management can work if it follows a standardized approach where results are verified by third parties.
The number of hotspots, or fires detected by satellite or other remote sensing, jumped by more than a thousand instances this September, bringing Indonesia’s total to more than 5,000 this year. An estimated 200 individuals have been arrested for illegal land clearance practices after starting fires to increase agricultural production. Such agricultural conversion often creates fires that spread out of control to ravage vulnerable ecosystems.
CIFOR reports that more than 70% of all fires in Indonesia occur on peatland, which have far-ranging health and biodiversity impacts, and can release massive amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. The fires are affecting the entire region — Singapore reported its worst air-quality in three years, and the government of Malaysia began issuing masks to more than 2 million residents as particulate matter levels reached an extremely unhealthy 273 micrograms per cubic meter of air on September 19th.
The economic drivers of deforestation are complex, and a multitude of organizations, governments and individuals are working hard to curb the drivers of forest fires, land clearance and unsustainable environmental practices that are driving climate change.
At the ground level in Indonesia however, the solution is straightforward. Active peatland forest management and restoration can protect at-risk areas from further destruction. Forest Carbon and its partner Global Alam Lestari restore tropical peatland forests through water table management, enrichment planting, forest patrols and community livelihoods development. These peatland areas are rich in biodiversity, and are often home to endangered species, such as the Sumatran tiger found in Forest Carbon’s Sumatra Merang Peatland project (SMPP).
Of the more than 5,000 hotspots reported in Indonesia this year, none have occurred in the 23,000-hectare SMPP concession. Such results come from having a staff of more than 55 in the field, extensive fire-fighting equipment and strong partnerships with neighboring concessions that support the team as they respond fires in the wider landscape that put the project at risk.
The community of market-based projects in Indonesia is growing, and other projects besides Forest Carbon’s are also stopping forest fires and providing long-term protection for vulnerable landscapes and the communities that rely on them. Hotspot data for the Katingan project in Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo is also impressive, showing the project surrounded by fire events but with none of them spreading inside the borders of their concession.