Tag Archives: Fires

Borneo’s Fires – Risk Remains High

Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, where our main programmes are based still remains extremely dry and fires pose a real threat to key orangutan populations. What this posts shows, is that if we have the resources to fight these fires they can be put out and controlled.

June sent through this news today…

‘There are fires in Tanjung Puting National Park and Orangutan Foundation are assiting the National Park authorities with logistical and transportation costs. Thankfully the fires that we were battling in Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve have been sucessfully put out. But it’s raining ash right now here in Pangkalan Bun, I kid you not. Haze is very bad.’

Professor Jack Rieley, a world expert on tropical peatlands from Nottingham University, also sent through this information he received from the field about the fires in Sebangau Forests.

Palangkaraya’s airport is closed and all the hospitals are full. Schools are closed and the fires and the smoke are getting worst. Fortunately Dr Suwido Limin, of CIMTROP, reported this morning that the research area in Sebangau is safe from fire, as Suwido’s team have been sucessful in their operations to protect from fire. They are working still to install water pumps in another three locations.

Sebangau Forest Fires Threaten Wild Orangutans

Some images sent through from Dr Suwido Limin, Director of CIMTROP, Centre for International Cooperation in the Management of Tropical Peatland. The work that Dr Suwido and his team are undertaking is very dangerous and Suwido has to provide insurance for his team (also expensive and not easy to get). His men are working away from roads and operate 24 hours a day transporting heavy equipment manually or by motor cycle to where it is needed. It is even more dangerous in the dark. As Dr.Suwido Limin reports, this is a hazardous job. “Peat fires are unique as they spread below the surface, on average 20-30cm below ground but sometimes as deep as 60cm, which makes fighting them both dangerous and unpredictable. You can put out fire in one place and then flames suddenly shoot up behind you.”

Orangutan Foundation sent out £3,000 to CIMTROP last week. Thank you to Mara, of Hong Kong based Orangutan Aid, for your offer to donate US$200 and to thank you to Orangutan Foundation ambassador and member, Helen who donated £70 towards tackling the fires through Give As You Earn.  We will keep you updated this situation.

Sebangau Forest Fires

CIMTROP team tackling the fires. Photo by CIMTROP

Fire Fighting Sebangau

Fires at Sebangau Forest, Central Kalimantan. Photo by CIMTROP

Using motorbikes to carry equipment to fires -CIMTROP

Motorbikes are needed to carry equipment and access the fires. Photo by CIMTROP

Sebangau Fires 

Photo by CIMTROP 

For more information read the press release below.

PRESS RELEASE. RAGING FOREST FIRES THREATEN WILD ORANGUTANS IN BORNEO 

Forest fires are breaking out in the Sabangau peat-swamp forests in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, threatening the lives of the estimated 8,000 wild orangutans living here.  This is exceptionally worrying during times of extreme drought caused by El Niño. This year Borneo is once again firmly in the grip of such a drought. During previous El Niño years several hundred thousand hectares of primary rainforest burnt in this area, destroying the habitat of thousands of orangutans and other endangered plants and wildlife. According to Dr. Suwido Limin, Director of the Indonesian peatland conservation organisation CIMTROP, management of the forest by forestry companies over the last forty years has led to the loss of forest rights for local people. In order to restore the local community’s engagement with the forest, these rights need to be returned.

Dr. Limin has witnessed out of contol fires many times before and is concerned that 2009 will see a repeat. He has spent the last twenty years studying and protecting this unique ecosystem and knows very well the risks involved. “These fires have started as a result of human actions; newcomers to the area have attempted to follow traditional Dayak farming methods for land clearance but they lack the experience to control the fires they start. When peat dries out it burns very easily and at great temperatures. Once these fires take hold, they burn and burn and can be almost impossible to put out until the rains come again. In that time huge areas of forest and irreplaceable peat deposits may be lost”.

Peatland fires are not only a major threat to the natural environment and the many species that live here but also to the health of the local population due to smoke inhalation. Nationally, huge clouds of smoke are blacking out the sun, affecting air and sea traffic and potentially causing millions of dollars of lost revenue. On a global scale, they are one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute significantly to rising global temperatures and hence climate change.

To try and prevent this happening, CIMTROP run a rapid-response fire-fighting team (locally known as the Tim Serbu Api, or TSA) to tackle fires as soon as they are reported and before they get out of control. The team monitors an area of 100,000 hectares and is made up of local people who have received training and equipment from CIMTROP and are ready to be called upon when fires break out. But, as Dr. Limin reports, this is a hazardous job. “Peat fires are unique as they spread below the surface, on average 20-30cm below ground but sometimes as deep as 60cm, which makes fighting them both dangerous and unpredictable. You can put out fire in one place and then flames suddenly shoot up behind you.”

One fire hotspot is Kalampangan which borders both the NLPSF (the Natural Laboratory for Peat Swamp Forest), an international research site established by CIMTROP, and Sabangau National Park – home to the world’s largest orang-utan population. CIMTROP’s fire-fighting team have been battling fires in Kalampangan non-stop for the past ten days and will continue to monitor the fires until the rains come. Local residents report the fire took hold incredibly quickly, raging through the tinder-dry vegetation, decimating all in its path and burning down into the peat. Here orangutan sleeping nests can be seen in trees shrouded in smoke and rhinoceros hornbills fly through the haze overhead. On the ground, the TSA create fire breaks and pump water from nearby canals and bore-holes onto the fires. Bore-holes often need to be twenty meters or more deep to access sufficient water to tackle the fire, taking up to six hours and teams of three or four trained workers to dig. Extinguishing just one square metre of burning peat takes two to three hundred litres of water.

Alim, a long-term TSA team member, is enthusiastic to talk about their work and what they need. “We use water pumps and special fire-fighting hose to carry water from the water bores and canals to the burning areas. At the moment, we have twenty TSA rapid-response fire suppression team members, all fully trained specialists in fighting peat fires. They work alongside ten more people split between the River Patrol Team (Tim Patroli), which carry out daily patrols along the boundary of the NLPSF using the Sabangau river, and the TSA Ground Patrol Unit who use motorbikes to monitor the forest from the land. All our teams keep in contact with each other using two-way radios. Of course, it would be great if we could have more equipment so we can cover more ground. Ideally, I would like sixty permanent TSA members so we can set up more fire-fighting points working simultaneously in this fire hotspot while also allowing the team to get some rest! We need more water pumps, lots more hose and permanent bore-hole sites so we can channel water to burning areas more easily. Unfortunately, one of our patrol bikes was destroyed in the Kalampangan fire making patrolling much harder.”

Dr. Limin is proud of his team and their dedication in such difficult conditions. In 2006 they battled successfully for five months to save an area of pristine forest, and he expects a similar commitment this time around. But he echoes Alim’s calls for more equipment and personnel. “It is difficult to maintain funding for the TSA over the long-term because major fires occur maybe once every three or four years. We need to have the capacity to guarantee income and operational costs for the TSA and Tim Patroli and have funds permanently available for immediate use when fire hits. Disasters do not wait while mitigation strategies are discussed and put in place; they hit hard and fast, with little warning. We rely on donations, and are very grateful for the financial support we receive, but at the moment we simply don’t have the resources we need to tackle all the fires that are starting.”

Fire breakout near border of Wildlife Reserve

At the end of April, there was another fire breakout, near the Pos Danau Burung (or Bird Lake Post) that borders the western section of Sungai Lamandau Reserve.

Map Lamandau Wildlife Reserve -Bird Lake Post

Map showing Bird Lake Post on the Reserve Border.

Thankfully, at that time, our Programme Coordinator, Pak Hudi, was visiting the area with the Section Head (II) of the Central Kalimantan Agency for Conservation of Natural Resources (BKSDA), Pak Eko Novi. Along with our ever-ready Patrol Manager, Pak Jak, they raced to assist our field staff at Pos Danau Burung.

Danau Burung (Bird Lake Post) Fire fighting Team.

Field staff from Pos Danau Burung who made up the fire-fighting team

Face to face with the fire wall

Face to face with the fire wall

Fire breakout - forest in the background

Trying to stop the fire – forest in the background

Fire breakout

Beating the fire

Caught unaware they had to grab whatever was at hand to beat the fire.

They slogged to beat out the fires for many hours under the hot sun. We appreciate the hard work of our field staff, whose primary role is to replant the western part of the Reserve but would not hesistate to switch roles as fire-fighters when needed.

Tears for nature
Tears for naturetired and emotional.

Pak Eko Novi was also very appreciative of our staff’s dedication that he organized a special ceremony for the field staff, in which he presented pins from the Fire-Fighting section (Manggala Agni) of BKSDA Section II. It was truly an honour, and much appreciated!

It does not stop there for our hard-working Programme Coordinator, Pak Hudi. Today (13th May), under a special invitation from Pak Eko Novi, he will be giving a team-building exercise for the Fire-fighting team of BKSDA Section II, Central Kalimantan.

Hopefully, we will have a post from Pak Hudi himself about this experience!

Thanks,

June

Programmes Manager

Sowing the seeds…

My every sense says the forests on the northern border of the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve are in trouble. Already split into thin fingers of forest, separated by degraded areas, it seems these forests are retreating not expanding. However, with the support of local communities, we have chosen this area as a reforestation site.

A few days ago I went there with Rene Dommain, the visiting German peat researcher, and we stayed at the very northern point of the Reserve, where we have a guard post, Post Prapat (see map).

Map Lamandau

Behind the post is one of the fingers of forest. Here there are tall trees, including those species found in deep forest, but they are only 20 metres away from sand. Clearly this is remnant primary forest and the thinner it gets, the more vulnerable it becomes.

Ariel view

Aerial view of Post Prapat with the remnant forest behind.

Rene helped to explain the process and no surprises here – the villain was fire. Whilst he described it as an “anthropogenic impact”, you and I can hear “man made”. The southern part of Borneo is a relatively “young” landscape. The base material is sand, deposited either from erosion of the high interior mountains or during the periods when the area was an ancestral seabed. Over thousands of years, grasses, shrubs, and then trees gradually covered the sand and forests grew.

Fires have had a major impact on this ecosystem. The first fires burning through the shallow humus layer, killing the trees’ roots. With the trees fallen the next fires to occur were even more destructive with subsequent fires encouraging scrub growth. Ultimately this left an exposed layer of sand with the original nutrient rich humus having been destroyed. Presently, these remaining forests are just waiting for the next dry year, the next fire.

The aim of the reforestation programme is not ambitious – even in our wildest dreams we cannot envisage the day when this will be thick forest. What we are trying to do is broaden the forested fingers, reduce the gaps and push the balance in favour of the trees not the scrub.

It is a tall order to regenerate this area, but you know us, we like a challenge!

We have established a tree nursery at Post Prapat. The people from the surrounding communities have been enthusiastic in finding wildings (seedlings harvested from wild seed-fall) to stock it. We will keep the trees in the nursery until their rooting systems are well established.

Nursery

Nursery

The whole process is hugely resource-intensive and the return may be as little as 50ha (1/2 km2 or 123 acres). But that is hardly the point. The real points are:

  • People learn about how fragile these ecosystems are.
  • We are demonstrating that protecting the existing forest is much more effective than trying to re-grow it
  • By protecting the fragile fringes, you prevent damage spreading to the core

In the case of Lamandau, the forest core is still rich in biodiversity. I led Rene on the 7 km walk southwards from Post Prapat to Camp Rasak. On the way, we saw a few birds and a snake. At Camp Rasak, I was hoping to catch of glimpse of Boni who we are told is seen most days and neither did we see Andi and Sawit, who seem to have gone off together (see post ‘More orangutans back in the wild‘). However we were fortunate to see Lady Di and her baby.

Lady Di and infant

Lady Di and infant 2

Lady Di and infant 3

Lady Di was released into Lamandau in Febuary 2006 and this is her first baby.

It is hard to believe our reforestation programme site is only 7 km away, but without this added protection, this forest and these orangutans would seem a lot more vulnerable.

– PS, Sheryl, you’ll be pleased to know once the eagle, snake and monkeys were out of the traps, I also set the fish free 🙂

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