Indonesia — The recurrence of forest fires in North Sumatra is posing a serious threat to a forest conservation program in Aek Nauli, Simalungun regency. The protected Aek Nauli conservation forest near the tourist resort area ofake Toba is prone to fires in the dry season, with more than 10 hectares of forest lost to fires annually.
To lessen the impact of future fires, pulp and paper mill PT Toba Pulp Lestari recently deployed its fire brigade with a fire engine and ambulance in a two-hour-long fire-fighting drill at the conservation forest.
Deputy head of the Aek Nauli sector of Toba Pulp’s social security and licensing division, Sangkan Tampubolon, said the drill was aimed at anticipating forest fires during the dry season this year. He said forest fire was a recurrent problem in the Aek Nauli conservation area, where the company retained 10,000 ha of conservation areas and 7,000 ha of industrial logging areas where it grew eucalyptus trees.
Sangkan told The Jakarta Post the Aek Nauli forest was prone to catching fire because it was full of dry and highly flammable leaves. He also said the fires were caused by people.
“Every dry season, residents living around the forest open up farmland by burning away the vegetation,” said Sangkan.
Head of North Sumatra Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA) Djati Wicaksono concurred and said forest fires occurred almost every year in the area. He said conservation forests around Lake Toba were more prone to fires than the province’s other forests.
“There are three protected forests around Lake Toba which often catch fire. They are in Paropo, Silalahi and Merek districts,” Djati told the Post. He said most of those engaged in forest conversion programs to make way for farmland were local residents, adding that his office had campaigned among local people to point out the risks of forest fires.
“We have repeatedly exhorted residents not to clear forest areas by setting fire to them, but (the requests) have fallen on deaf ears, as evident in the still-regular forest fires,” said Djati, adding his office had arranged a number of programs aimed at curbing forest fires.
Sangkan said authorities had arrested a number of people found burning forested areas and some of them had been prosecuted.
“Those who are caught red-handed burning forests will be arrested and dealt with legally regardless of their background and motives,” said Sangkan. He added the company would also impose sanctions against employees who were aware of forest fires but failed to act quickly or report them.
“We will reprimand them and considering terminating their employment,” said Sangkan.