Boost for Indonesian ‘ecosystem restoration’ forest


Indonesia’s forests  received a boost when the nation’s government announced plans to double the size of the country’s first forest for “ecosystem restoration”, according to a joint press release issued by the RSPB.

It says that Indonesian Forest Minister Zulkifli Hasan has announced that he will expand the 52,000 hectare concession held by Burung Indonesia, the RSPB (UK) and BirdLife International in central Sumatra to a total area of 98,000 hectares.

According to the RSPB, the restoration area now equals two-thirds the size of greater London and is greater than the size of Singapore.

The bird conservation group welcomed the news, adding that other applications for ‘forest restoration’ licences are being submitted to the nation’s forestry ministry.

In 2009, the ministry is reported to have received as many applications for forest restoration licences as it did for logging concessions.

Applications for forest restoration totalled a further two million hectares, and are now being assessed.

The 98,000 hectares where the minister announced he would grant “ecosystem restoration” is within Harapan Rainforest, one of the last remaining areas of dry lowland Sumatran forest and is one of the most threatened rainforests in the world.

It is home to a host of rare animal and plant species, including the critically endangered Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), of which fewer than 300 remain in the wild.

It supports an amazing 55 mammal species, including the globally-threatened Asian elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) and Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus), as well as the world’s rarest stork – the Storm’s stork (Ciconia stormi) – and a rich diversity of other wildlife.

An initial licence of 52,000 hectares was granted to the environmental consortium in 2008, allowing them to protect, nurture and restore the forest in a former logging concession.

Illegal logging has been significantly decreased and forest fires, which once released significant carbon dioxide emissions, have been all but stamped out. Not only is the forest an important carbon store, but the tree planting programme in Harapan Rainforest is capturing more carbon from the atmosphere.

Botanic experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the UK have identified a plant growing in the forest, Emblemantha urnulata B. C. Stone, that is unique to the area and had only been recorded twice before.

Agus B. Utomo, the Executive Director of Burung Indonesia, said: “The Ministry of Forestry had the foresight to create a new form of forest management in 2004 with the ‘ecosystem restoration’ licence.

“We’re delighted that ecosystem restoration is now an integral part of forest management strategies in Indonesia. As a result, Burung Indonesia is already planning to expand our portfolio of ecosystem restoration concessions.”

Source : RSPB press release

Date: 18/06/2010

Indonesia ‘failing on pledge to reduce forest fires’


The Indonesian government failed to live up to its promises to reduce fires across the tropical nation last year, reports Mongabay.com.Take Cover library picture

It quotes The Jakarta Post as saying that the nation’s 2009 State Environment Report revealed a 59% increase in the number of fire hotspots from 19,192 in 2008 to 32,416 last year.

Officials are reported as saying that land clearing was the primary cause because, unlike temperature forests, intact rainforests rarely burn naturally.

“Illegal land clearing with fires by local people in Kalimantan and Sumatra is still rampant,” Heddy Mukna, deputy assistant for forest and land management at the Environment Ministry told the Post.

The state of Kalimantan on the island of Borneo saw fires triple in some areas from 2008 to 2009.

Haze blanketed much of the island last year during the “burning season”.

In 2007, the Indonesian government announced plan to cut forest fires in half to mitigate climate change from 35,279 fires in 2006.

The government has since revised that reduction from 50% to just 20%.

Indonesia is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world behind China and the US.

An estimated 80% of the nation’s 2.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions is from rainforest and peatland destruction.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 13/06/2010

Climate ‘adds fuel to Asian wildfire emissions’


In the last decade, Asian farmers have cleared tens of thousands of square miles of forests to accommodate the world’s growing demand for palm oil, an increasingly popular food ingredient, reports Science Daily.

Ancient peatlands have been drained and lush tropical forests have been cut down.

As a result, the landscape of equatorial Asia now lies vulnerable to fires, which are growing more frequent and having a serious impact on the air as well as the land.

A team of NASA-sponsored researchers have used satellites to make the first series of estimates of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from these fires — both wildfires and fires started by people — in Malaysia, Indonesia, Borneo, and Papua New Guinea.

They are now working to understand how climate influences the spread and intensity of the fires.

Using data from a carbon-detecting NASA satellite and computer models, the researchers found that seasonal fires from 2000 to 2006 doubled the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released from the Earth to the atmosphere above the region.

The scientists also observed through satellite remote sensing that fires in regional peatlands and forests burned longer and emitted ten times more carbon when rainfall declined by one third the normal amount.

The results were presented in December 2008 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tropical Asian fires first grabbed the attention of government officials, media, and conservationists in 1997, when fires set to clear land for palm oil and rice plantations burned out of control.

The fires turned wild and spread to dry, flammable peatlands during one of the region’s driest seasons on record. By the time the flames subsided in early 1998, emissions from the fires had reached 40 percent of the global carbon emissions for the period.

“In this region, decision makers are facing a dichotomy of demands, as expanding commercial crop production is competing with efforts to ease the environmental impact of fires,” said co-author Jim Collatz, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“The science is telling us that we need strategies to reduce the occurrence of deforestation fires and peatlands wildfires. Without some new strategies, emissions from the region could rise substantially in a drier, warmer future.”

Since the 1997 event, the region has been hit by two major dry spells and a steady upswing in fires, threatening biodiversity and air quality and contributing to the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere.

As more CO2 is emitted, the global atmosphere traps more heat near Earth’s surface, leading to more drying and more fires.

Until recently, scientists knew little about what drives changes in how fires spread and how long they burn. Dr Collatz, along with lead author Guido van der Werf of Vrije University, Amsterdam, and other colleagues sought to estimate the emissions since the devastating 1997-98 fires and to analyse the interplay between the fires and drought.

They used the carbon monoxide detecting Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite — as well as 1997-2006 fire data and research computer models — to screen for and differentiate between carbon emissions from deforestation versus general emissions.

Carbon monoxide is a good indicator of the occurrence of fire, and the amounts of carbon monoxide in fire emissions are related to the amount of carbon dioxide.

They also compared the emissions from different types of plant life (peat land verses typical forest) by examining changes in land cover and land use as viewed by Terra’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectradiometer (MODIS) and by Landsat 7.

Collatz explained that two climate phenomena drive regional drought.

El Nino’s warm waters in the Eastern Pacific change weather patterns around the world every few years and cause cooler water temperatures in the western Pacific near equatorial Asia that suppress the convection necessary for rainfall.

Previously, scientists have used measurements from NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission satellite to correlate rainfall with carbon losses and burned land data, finding that wildfire emissions rose during dry El Nino seasons.

The Indian Ocean dipole phenomenon affects climate in the Indian Ocean region with oscillating ocean temperatures characterized by warmer waters merging with colder waters to inhibit rainfall over Indonesia, Borneo, and their neighbors.

“This link between drought and emissions should be of concern to all of us,” said co-author Ruth DeFries, an ecologist at Columbia University in New York.

“If drought becomes more frequent with climate change, we can expect more fires.”

Collatz, DeFries, and their colleagues found that between 2000 and 2006, the average carbon dioxide emissions from equatorial Asia accounted for about 2 percent of global fossil fuel emissions and 3 percent of the global increase in atmospheric CO2.

But during moderate El Nino years in 2002 and 2006, when dry season rainfall was half of normal, fire emissions rose by a factor of 10. During the severe El Nino of 1997-1998, fire emissions from this region comprised 15% of global fossil fuel emissions and 31% of the global atmospheric increase over that period.

“This study not only updates our measurements of carbon losses from these fires, but also highlights an increasingly important factor driving change in equatorial Asia,” explained DeFries.

“In this part of Asia, human-ignited forest and peat fires are emitting excessive carbon into the atmosphere. In climate-sensitive areas like Borneo, human response to drought is a new dynamic affecting feedbacks between climate and the carbon cycle.”

In addition to climate influences, human activities contribute to the growing fire emissions.

Palm oil is increasingly grown for use as a cooking oil and biofuel, while also replacing trans fats in processed foods.

It has become the most widely produced edible oil in the world, and production has swelled in recent years to surpass that of soybean oil.

More than 30 million tonnes of palm oil are produced in Malaysia and Indonesia alone, and the two countries now supply more than 85% of global demand.

The environmental effects of such growth have been significant. Land has to be cleared to grow the crop, and the preferred method is fire.

The clearing often occurs in drained peatlands that are otherwise swampy forests where the remains of past plant life have been submerged for centuries in as much as 60 feet of water.

Peat material in Borneo, for example, stores the equivalent of about nine years worth of global fossil fuel emissions.

“Indonesia has become the third largest greenhouse gas emitter after the United States and China, as a result primarily to these fire emissions,” Collatz said.

“With an extended dry season, the peat surface dries out, catches fire, and the lack of rainfall can keep the fires going for months.”

Besides emitting carbon, the agricultural fires and related wildfires also ravage delicate ecosystems in conservation hotspots like the western Pacific island of Borneo, home to more than 15,000 species of plants, 240 species of trees, and an abundance of endangered animals.

Smoke and other fire emissions also regularly taint regional air quality to such a degree that officials have to close schools and airports out of concern for public health and safety.

Peat fires also aggravate air pollution problems in this region because they release four times more carbon monoxide than forest fires.

In 1997, air pollution from the fires cost the region an estimated $4.5 billion in tourism and business.

Source: Science Daily

Date: 10/05/2009

Twiglet: Indonesian newly weds must plant trees


An Indonesian district in West Java, Garut, has started a unique program to support reforestation.

Mongabay.com reports that any couple planning to get married must give 10 trees to local authorities for reforestation efforts before the marriage will be legally sanctioned.

But it’s not just married couples that must support reforestation. Couples filing for divorce must provide at least one tree, according to Wibowo, the district secretary.

The new rules are the result of budget difficulties within the Garut district government, after the central government launched a plan to plant a million trees across Indonesia.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 05/03/2009

Human activity ‘triggers rise in Borneo forest fires’


Severe fires in Indonesia – responsible for some of the worst air quality conditions worldwide – are linked not only to drought, but also to changes in land use and population density, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience.

“During the late 1970s, Indonesian Borneo changed from being highly fire-resistant to highly fire-prone during drought years, marking the period when one of the world’s great tropical forests became one of the world’s largest sources of pollution,” said lead researcher Robert Field, a PhD student of atmospheric physics at the University of Toronto, Canada.

“Ultimately, this abrupt transition can be attributed to rapid increases in deforestation and population growth,” he explained.

“The resulting occurrences of haze currently rank among the world’s worst air pollution episodes, and are a singularly large source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Sumatra has suffered from large fires since at least the 1960s, but Indonesian Borneo seems to have been resistant to large fires, even in dry years, until population density and deforestation increased substantially and land use changed from small-scale subsistence agriculture to large-scale industrial agriculture and agro-forestry.

“We’ve had a good understanding of fire events since the mid 1990s, but little before this due to the absence of fire data from satellites,” said Mr Field.

“However, one of the major impacts of large-scale fires is a reduction in visibility due to the smoke produced.

“Visibility is recorded several times a day at airports in the region, and these records proved to be an excellent indicator of severe fire activity.

“We were able to piece together visibility observations back to the 1960s, and hence develop a longer term record of the fires.”

Having a long-term record of the fires allowed the scientists to better understand their causes.

“Using weather records, we were able to estimate the specific rainfall level below which large fires have occurred in the previous two decades,” Mr Field added.

“In turn, we found that the rainfall over Indonesia was influenced equally by the Indian Ocean Dipole and the El Nino Southern Oscillation phenomena.”

Mr Field concluded: “Hopefully, this information can be used to better anticipate and prevent future haze disasters in Indonesia.”

He said that there was a direct link between the increased prevalence of severe fires and haze disasters and the man-made change in land use.

“The visibility record also showed, quite strikingly, the impact of human settlement on a previously pristine tropical forest.

“This should give pause to further agro-forestry expansion in Indonesia, particularly for oil palm as a source of biofuel.”

Source: EurekAlert

Date: 22/02/2009

Teak trees offer clues to drought history


A group of scientists are developing more accurate drought and harvest forecasts for Indonesia using tree rings, historic rice production figures and sea surface temperature data, the Reuters news agency reports.

Indonesia is one of the world’s most populous nations and a major producer of rice, cocoa, coffee and tobacco.

But the country is regularly at risk of drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon, which causes the eastern Pacific ocean to heat up, resulting in  wet weather moving toward the east and leaving drier weather in west around South-East Asia and Australia.

US scientist Rosanne D’Arrigo and colleague Robert Wilson are working on simplified statistical models that can predict drought ahead of the main September-December rice planting season, and how severe the drought might be.

The models focus on Java, one of the world’s most densely populated islands with 120 million people.

“We’re trying to develop simple, predictive model of drought and crop productivity on Java,” said Dr D’Arrigo of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“There are complex models out there but you need to have a local type of analysis and something simple for local people to use .”

She was speaking to Reuters from Dalat, southern Vietnam, where she was presenting her team’s work at a climate change conference this week.

A key part of the model is using sea surface temperature data from the tropical Pacific and from the Indian Ocean.

A separate phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole can also cause drought in Australia and affect rainfall in Indonesia.

Other data, such as sea-level pressure and wind indexes, are also used.

The data are examined several months before the usual onset of the monsoon to try to accurately predict likely rainfall patterns over Indonesia.

Dr D’Arrigo said she also found good agreement between the sea surface temperature model, a local drought index in Java and government data on crop productivity.

This suggested “we could estimate not only the coming drought condition but also the kind of crop season you would expect to have,” she said, adding she was also looking at a predictive model for the onset of the monsoon.

Her team also looked at tree rings from old teak trees in Java and Sulawesi island to build up a chronology of past droughts and found a very strong correlation with El Nino.

“Indonesia is kind of unique in the sense that it’s probably the area where you have the greatest ‘ground-zero’ climate signal related to El Nino,” she explained.

The oldest teak tree ring records came from the 16th Century, she said, but added it had been hard work finding the remaining centuries-old teak trees.

“It takes fair a bit of research. You have to do a bit of detective work to find the few remaining last stands that haven’t been cut for furniture.”

Source: Reuters

Date: 18/02/2009

Indonesia favours palm oil over peatlands


The Indonesian government will allow developers to convert millions of hectares of land for oil palm plantations, reports Mongabay.com.

The decision threatens to undermine Indonesia’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land use and fashion itself as a leader on the environment among tropical countries.

Gatot Irianto, head of research and development for the Agriculture Ministry, said the department is drafting a decree that would allow the drainage and conversion of peatland areas into oil palm estates.

“We still need land for oil palm plantations,” he told the Jakarta Post during a conference organised by the National Commission on Climate Change.

“We’ve discussed the draft with stakeholders, including hard-line activists, to convince them that converting peatland is safe,” he added.

“We promise to promote eco-friendly management to ward off complaints from overseas buyers and international communities.”

Degradation and destruction of peatlands in Indonesia results in hundreds of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Generally, developers dig a canal to drain the land, extract valuable timber, before clearing the vegetation using fire.

In dry years these fires can burn for months, contributing to the “haze” that plagues south-east Asian with increasing frequency.

Fires in peatlands are especially persistent, since they can continue to smolder underground for years even after surface fires are extinguished by monsoon rains.

While burning releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, merely draining peatlands also contributes to global warming. Once exposed to air, the peat oxidises, leading to decomposition and the relsease of carbon dioxide.

A study led by UK researcher Dr Susan Page from the University of Leicester found that producing one tonne of palm oil on peatland resulted in the release of up to 70 tonnes over 25 years as a result of forest conversion, peat loss and emissions from slash-and-burn fires.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 15/02/2009

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