Orang Kayo Hitam Forest Park in Jambi is still suffering the effects of frequent forest fires.
The peat forest, which is a part of a biosphere reserve of Berbak Sembilang National Park, has been repeatedly hit by fires, with the worst occurring in 2015, when almost 80 percent of the 18,140 hectares of peatland were scorched.
“Thorough revegetation has taken place,” local environmentalist group Gita Buana Association program coordinator Hery Kuswantoro said on Monday.
The Jakarta Post once visited the wetland that is located between Muarojambi and East Tanjungjabung regencies in 2017 and found some minor changes. The previously barren area had stagnant water that was 50 centimeters deep.
The association, which has been involved in replanting the area since 2016, said revegetation was urgently needed.
To do this, 80-cm seedlings need to be planted in the area that is inundated with stagnant water.
A seedling of that size would cost Rp 50,000, with 1 ha needing 1,100 seedlings, Hery said.
The seedlings should be endemic to the area — such as jelutong, meranti, punak and pulai — and can survive in peat swamps.
“We have conducted revegetation on 125 ha” Hery added, saying the association was hoping to cooperate with the IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative and Belantara Foundation to cover a wider area.
Gita Buana had built artesian wells and canal blocks to prevent fires from spreading to a wider area, said Lambok Panjaitan who is a staff member of the association.
“We have involved locals in the project and disseminated information on how to extinguish fires in a modern way,” Lambok added.
The association has thus far covered the five subdistricts of Seponjen, Gedong Karya, Sungai Aur, Pematang Raman, and Mentaro Island in Muarojambi regency.
Funds totaling Rp 900 million (US$63,411) have been disbursed to subdistricts located close to the forest park and about Rp 200 million went to subdistricts located around the forest.
“The peat forest cannot be separated from Berbak Sembilang. Improving the [Orang Kaya Hitam] means protecting the national park,” Lambok said.
Forest fires were catastrophic to locals, said M. Ali, the chairman of the Sungai Aur fire mitigation community (MPA). They have stopped locals from planting crops and benefitting from the forest’s bounty.
Before the fires, he added, people earned a living by catching fish in the many tributaries in the area, something that they could no longer do, saying they also have to contend with floods.
“This is what drives us to help save this area,” Ali said.