Indonesia: Rehabilitation of Fire-affected Forests in East Kalimantan (IFFN No. 19- September 1998)

(IFFN No. 19 – September 1998,p. 23-26)


The fires burning in Indonesia during the El-Niño episode of 1997, and particularly in East Kalimantan in 1998, gained sad publicity all over the world and affected millions of people in Southeast Asia. Since the East Kalimantan fires were put out in May 1998 with celestial assistance (rain), the question comes up, what to do with the burnt areas, so that they will again be able to fulfill the economic, ecological and social functions required by their stakeholders. This question becomes a particular challenge, if one considers the present economic strains the country is facing. In the current crisis, various parties put emphasis on producing food to counter the food insufficiencies and to diminish imports of food commodities. A second emphasis is on gaining foreign currency income in the few still promising sectors, among others, agricultural plantations like oil palm, cocoa, rubber and coffee and partly timber. All these factors put strong pressure on the burnt forest lands and comprise functions, which the forest lands presently have to provide to the society.


Purpose and Project History

In January 1998, the project “Promotion of Sustainable Forest Management Systems in East Kalimantan” (SFMP) – a cooperation between the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Estate Crops (MoFEC) and GTZ -launched a special component addressing the above mentioned problem. It has a duration of two years.

The purpose of this new component of SFMP is on a pilot basis, to assist forest enterprises (private and state-owned), and local people to implement the necessary steps to rehabilitate fire-affected forests and to integrate them into their management systems. In addition to this, applied technology is being further developed in selected fields as well as with the Forest Research Institute of Samarinda (FRIS) in a demonstration plot for future dissemination.

This demonstration plot was set up as a cooperation project between MoF and ITTO (PD 84/90F) from 1992 to 1994, as a result of another MoF/ITTO cooperation in 1989 (PD 17/87F). In this project an inventory was carried out over the 3.2 mio ha of forests burnt in East Kalimantan in 1982/83. In both MoF/ITTO projects, extremely valuable results about the silvicultural options and technologies in fire-affected forests were developed, from which one can now draw.

Unfortunately, the above mentioned former ITTO demonstration plot for fire-affected forests was destroyed in the recent fires. An impressive result of five years intensive management of dipterocarp plantings was destroyed within a week. Now, not only at this demonstration plot, but almost everywhere in the forestry sector in East Kalimantan, there is a good chance to learn from the present experiences, so that in the future the same shortcomings do not happen again. This chance has to be taken now, while the momentum is still there.


Short Analysis of the Recent Fires in East Kalimantan

An initial analysis of the damage patterns of fire-affected forests shows in general: the higher the previous disturbance of the ecosystem, the higher the damage by fire to the forest (Tab.1).

The main factors leading to the pattern described in Table 1 were dry conditions and degree of opening-up, with exposure to wind and high loads of logging waste (fuel for the fires). They determine to a major extent the degree of damage and spread of fires (fire hazard).

Silvicultural strategies for rehabilitation of the fire-affected areas have therefore to aim at leaving still intact forests as closed as possible. However, since logging cannot be avoided, reduced impact logging, environmentally sound road construction and the wise use of timber to prevent fuel being left in the forest, have to be the overriding principles in forest utilization.


Tab.1. Impact of the fires on forest land in East Kalimantan

Severely affected forest areas Less affected forest areas

  • Fast growing timber estates (HTI)
  • Plantations using the line planting system
  • 200 – 300 m strips along forest roads
  • Stands exposed to wind (slopes, wind channels, ridges)
  • Newly opened or severely degraded logged
  • over and secondary forests
  • Rattan and other forest gardens
  • Alang-alang land (Grass land)
  • Old logged over forest and virgin forest
  • Sites protected from wind
  • Protected valleys and wetsites
  • Immediate surroundings of settlements (due to intensive fire suppression efforts)

Apart from this, there won´t be any meaningful development of silvicultural systems in the future without an assessment of its impact on fire management, as El-Niño related droughts and fires might regularly occur in the lowland Dipterocarp forests in East Kalimantan. Until now, the impact of pre-suppression and suppression measures has been poor. During the 1998 dry season, e.g., there was no effective fire strip system to contain the fires on a large scale. Fire fighting crews were only successful in the closest surroundings of settlements, ranger and research stations and camps.

During the recent dry season fires where lit almost everywhere (fire risk). The reasons for fires are widespread ranging from carelessness of weekend campers to large-scale intentional arson by big companies. Land-clearing for oil palm and timber estates played a role, as well as, shifting cultivation, illegal logging, revenge, land speculation and other reasons which all reflect very dynamic and uncontrolled land occupation and use.

Proper land use planning and democratic and just principles in land use policy become an imperative in order to prevent such disasters in the future. This has to lead, amongst others, to a different approach for dealing with local people. They can effectively destroy forests, if they are treated as enemies, but they can also effectively contribute to fire prevention and suppression, if they are perceived as partners and can gain benefits from these efforts. A constructive cooperation with local people is therefore crucial for fire prevention in the future.


Project Concept

Rehabilitation measures have to suit the needs and interests of their executors and beneficiaries, if they are to be implemented successfullys. Private and government owned forest enterprises (concessionaires) and local people were identified. As the main target groups for rehabilitation measures. Each require different approaches, but efforts are being taken by the project to bring both parties together.

Focus Private and Government owned Forest Enterprises: Although the total burnt area in East Kalimantan is not yet known, it is a fact, that the major part of it lies on forest concession land. Forest concessionaires will therefore carry the main burden of rehabilitation in the future. Until now, some concessionaires have been very eager to get a clear picture about their burnt areas and want to promote rehabilitation efforts in a proactive manner. The biggest, already known, fire-affected area in one concession is about 150.000 ha. Given these huge areas, it is obvious, that priorities for rehabilitation measures have to be set. The focus for rehabilitation will therefore be on severely damaged and accessible areas. Measures will have to start in these areas, where burnt trees can still be used (salvage felling) and planting measures should be carried out with a minimum amount of seedlings. Were suitable, local people should be of benefit of these areas through intercropping or taungya systems and through a participatory buffer zone management.

The sequence for planning and implementing rehabilitation measures can be seen in the following procedure:

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Fig.1. Procedure for rehabilitation of burnt forests in forest concessions

Fire prevention and pre-suppression measures have to be part of rehabilitation measures. Besides silvicultural and forest utilization-related techniques as already mentioned above, a fire pre-suppression and fighting infrastructure has to be built up and, standard operation procedures and incentive systems for operational staff have to be adjusted or developed. In this field, the project works closely together with the Integrated Forest Fire Management (IFFM) Project, another MoFEC/GTZ cooperation based in East Kalimantan.

All these efforts have to be integrated into forest management systems aiming at sustainable forest management. This means a lot for companies, which are, until now, often used to timber felling only. If one considers a necessary cutback of the annual allowable cut in the fire-affected concession, one has to think about, what kind of benefits should a concessionaire have from these efforts if the license is lost after 20 years. Therefore, a suitable incentive system for large scale rehabilitation programs also needs to be developed by the project.

In two concessions, these methods are being implemented on a pilot basis. They are the same Forest Management Units (FMU), which are supported by other SFMP units, thus ensuring an integrated, systems-oriented approach concerning sustainable forest management.

Focus Local People: Only due to a recent paradigm shift taking place in the Indonesian forest policy, local people can now be given a higher priority in carrying out rehabilitation measures on forest lands in the area surrounding villages. Because of this, new programmes have to be developed and old ones improved, in order to better suit local people’s needs particularly in the present economical crisis.

Taking all this into account, the project is presently developing a participatory approach, focussing on how to integrate rehabilitation measures into rural household systems. Based on group discussions, household interviews and other methods from the PRA tool box, it is envisaged, that enough consolidated ideas will be are jointly developed with local people to deal with burnt forest land. Based on these findings, short, medium and long-term measures will again be jointly planned, implemented and monitored. Such measures are presently being tried out by the state-owned forest enterprise Inhutani I together with FRIS, NGOs and GTZ experts in the frame of the Inhutani village development program (Bina Desa). The approach will also be implemented in the SFMP pilot FMUs and spread to other interested companies, NGOs and government agencies.

As it can be seen, the project focuses particularly on strengthening partnerships between forest enterprises and local people with mutual benefits. On the one hand, through participatory buffer zone development areas, security for forest management is increased. On the other hand, local people are assisted to improve their livelihood.


Applied Research

The long-term experiences of FRIS are used in order to re-establish the 1.099 ha demonstration plot for the rehabilitation of fire affected forests in Samboja. On the one hand, this plot will serve as a field for applied research on rehabilitation of natural forests bearing in mind a certain fire risk. On the other hand the demonstration plot will serve as a communication tool for extension and training purposes.

Research will mainly focus on; fire resistance of local species, development of extensive silvicultural systems, growth & yield studies and site related research. In addition to that, participatory research is carried out to involve local people in rehabilitation measures and particularly in the development of buffer zones in order to protect forest areas from fire.

Gottfried von Gemmingen

P.O.Box 1087
Samarinda 75001
East Kalimantan – Indonesia

Fax: ++62-541-33437
Tel:  ++62-541-33434

IFFN No. 19
Country Notes
Projects and Programmes

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