Indonesia — The Conservation and Natural Resources Center (BKSDA) in Mt. Ijen are claiming that forest fires, which destroyed 50 hectares of forest in Jember, East Java, were caused by conversion activities.
Budi Utomo, a BKSDA conservation head, said the fires originated from the Perhutani state forestry company’s protected forest in Bondowoso.
“The fire spread to the Ijen natural resort area, managed by the BKSDA, and the Perhutani protected forest in West Banyuwangi,” Budi said recently.
Budi estimated the fires were sparked by fires lit from forest conversion activities in the Perhutani forest area and were carried out by land operators working in the protected forests.
The company cleared the forest to grow cabbage, potatoes and strawberries. They burned the forest during the drought and the approach of rainy season so the land would be ready to be cultivated during the wet season.
The fires were located at six points – Mt. Ringgit, Penataran, Bayupahit, Mt. Ranti, Cangkringan and Pondok Bunder.
Budi said the blaze points were initially detected on Oct. 16 in the forest around Kalianyar village, Bondowoso. However, strong winds and dry trees caused the fire to spread quickly.
During the current season of dry weather and strong winds, balls of fire from the Perhutani area crossed to the Ijen natural resort and razed the bushes and pine trees there.
However, Bondowoso Perhutani spokesman, Wahyu Purnomo, denied that possibility. According to him, none of Perhutani Bondowoso’s forest area had been razed by fire. He told the The Jakarta Post by phone that all forest fires had occurred within the BKSDA area.
Despite that, he did not deny the fires were sparked by farmers clearing land ahead of the rainy season. “They are individual farmers, but not land operators,” he said.
Wahyu added that authorities at Bondowoso Perhutani had sent 30 forest rangers to assist personnel from the Sempol Police and BKSDA employees to douse the fires, even though the fires were not taking place in their jurisdiction.
The Ijen forest resort spans 42,650 hectares (ha). It includes the Ijen natural crater resort park (92 ha) the Ijen Natural Crater Conservation area (2,560 ha), managed by the BKSDA and West Banyuwangi forest reserve (16,000 ha) and the Bondowoso Forest Reserve (24,000 ha).
Head of the East Java BKSDA Zone III, Abdullah Effendi Abbas, expressed concern that forest fires taking place during the peak of the tourist season could tarnish the image of the Ijen Crater overseas.
“The world is focusing on environmental issues and forest fires, it could be deemed as negligence on our part to overcome the issue of climate change,” he said.