Fires in APP/Sinar Mas concessions add to region’s haze woes, threaten new UN biosphere reserve

EoF Press Release / 28 July 2009

Pekanbaru – Satellite data for the first six months of 2009 show that Riau Province had the largest number of fire “hotspots” in Indonesia: 4,782. And nearly one-quarter of the Riau fires happened within concessions affiliated with Sinar Mas Group’s Asia Pulp & Paper company, more than in any other single company’s concessions, an Eyes on the Forest analysis found.

Forest and peat fires are raging across numerous concessions in central Sumatra associated with APP/SMG, adding to regional haze problems and global climate change and destroying species-rich forests in the newly declared UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Riau Province.

Forest and peat fires are a major threat to Indonesia’s public health, biodiversity, regional economy and global climate. They are often deliberately  set as a quick and easy way to clear land after clear-cutting  natural  forest and before  establishing  plantations.  El Niño  this year is expected  to cause much worse forest and land fires than the past two years, with the peak between September and October.

In May this year, APP/SMG touted as a conservation achievement the designation of the Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu forest (GSK-BB) as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. However, 20 percent of all fire hotspots in Riau for the first half of 2009 occurred inside the original GSK forest block and half of them occurred inside APP/SMG-associated  concessions, according to Eyes on the Forest. MODIS satellite data shows that 22 percent of Riau’s hotspots are burning in the biosphere reserve and other APP/SMG-connected  concessions.

“APP/SMG  and  their  associated  companies  should  take  seriously  their  legal  responsibility  as license  holders  to prevent  such  fires  in their  concessions,  regardless  of whether  the  fires  are caused by themselves or others,” said Susanto Kurniawan of Jikalahari. “We also call on APP/SMG to stop building  new roads through  or next to natural  forest,  digging  peat drainage  canals  and clearing any more natural peatland forest. All of that facilitates fires.”

“Whether through fires, draining or forest clearance in its wood-sourcing concessions, APP/SMG is the  single  biggest  contributor  to  the  destruction  of  natural  forest  and  peat  soil  in  the  original ecosystem  where  the Biosphere  Reserve  was established.  Between  1996  and 2007,  APP had pulped 177,000 hectares – 65 percent of all natural forest lost in the ecosystem,” said Nursamsu of WWF-Indonesia.

“These  forests  were  cleared  sometimes  without  proper  licenses  and  sometimes  even  inside provincial  protection  areas,”  said  Hariansyah  Usman  of  Walhi  Riau.  “In  addition,  they  also sometimes violated Presidential Decree Number 32 Year 1990, which prohibits clearance of natural forest on peat soil deeper than 3 meters. APP/SMG still continues this kind of legally questionable forest clearance elsewhere in Sumatra. We call on the government  to reopen the findings of the recently terminated illegal logging investigation properly, instead of closing the case. We also call on the government to take legal action against companies which set fires.”

Biosphere  reserves  are conservation  designations  created  to protect  the biological  and cultural diversity of a region while promoting sustainable economic development. Today, just 35 percent of the 700,000-hectare UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is natural forest; the rest is dominated by acacia monoculture plantation with very low conservation values.

“We hope that the biosphere  reserve’s  natural forest will remain and that the health of the peat ecosystem of the reserve will recover. For that to happen, APP needs to provide real security to the area and conduct responsible hydrological management  of the peat. The recent fire hotspot map clearly shows that the company does not. It is time for them to live up to their own PR,” said Susanto Kurniawan.

Recently, APP has been under international scrutiny for its destruction of natural forest in the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape in Central Sumatra. Around 450,000 hectares of remaining contiguous natural forest  in  the  area  is  home  to  the  world’s  only  successfully  reintroduced  Sumatran  orangutan population, a quarter of the remaining wild population of critically endangered Sumatran tigers and an important  population  of endangered  Sumatran  elephants.  Two indigenous  tribes,  the Talang Mamak and Orang Rimba, also depend on this forest for their livelihood and home. APP/SMG has plans to clear up to 200,000 hectares of this forest if the Ministry of Forestry allows it.

This year, around 100 hotspots have been noted in Bukit Tigapuluh, indicating areas where natural forest had been cleared recently. Many of them occurred along a new logging highway through natural forest, which APP/SMG built in 2008 to transport timber to its two giant pulp mills in Riau and Jambi provinces. As new as it is, the logging highway has already brought illegal logging and encroachment to the natural forest, threatening the lives of wildlife and indigenous people.

Every year, forest and land fires in Riau and Jambi cause significant transboundary haze across the region. This year, major outbreaks of fires started in January and May, causing significant increase in the number of people with upper respiratory syndrome and forcing schools and airports closure and flight delays.


•   Eyes on the Forest is a coalition of WWF-Indonesia,  Jikalahari and Walhi Riau. Past reports on APP are published at

•   Fire hotspot data used are from NASA/University  of Maryland (2002) MODIS Hotspot / Active Fire Detections. Data set. MODIS Rapid Response Project, NASA/GSFC  [producer], University of Maryland, Fire Information for Resource Management System [distributors]. Available on-line at

•   Fire hotspot analysis for GSK and BTp were done within the original natural forest boundary in the year when APP/SMG and associated companies started to clear natural forest in these areas. APP/SMG  associated  companies  started to clear natural forest in GSK and BTP in 1996 and 2000, respectively.

•   The GSK forest has been shrinking  ever since APP’s  first commitment  in 2004 to protect it. Forest Stewardship  Council (FSC) accredited  certification  body SmartWood,  hired by APP to monitor its protection of this forest, cancelled the contract in 2008 when it found that APP had taken   no   steps   to   protect   the   forest   –   both   from   themselves    and   from   others.

•   On APP’s activities in Bukit Tigapuluh area, see:


For further information please contact:

-     Afdhal Mahyuddin, EoF Editor; mobile phone: +62-813-8976-8248
-     Hariansyah Usman, WALHI Riau; mobile phone: +62-812-7669-9967
-     Susanto Kurniawan, Jikalahari; mobile phone: +62-812-763-1775
-     Nursamsu, WWF Indonesia, in Riau; mobile phone: +62-812-753-7317


Maps and Data to Accompany Eyes on the Forest’s Press Release