Mon, 10 Oct 1994

Enforcement, not new rules, will stop forest fires

JAKARTA (JP): Two environmental activists say rather than issuing new regulations to prevent more forest fires, the government should strive to enforce the existing regulations.

Mas Achmad Santosa and S. Indro Tjahjono said separately on Saturday many regulations issued by local governments are adequate in preventing forest fires if they are complied with.

Santosa, director of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) and Indro, coordinator of the Indonesian Non- Governmental Organization on Forest Conservation (SKEPHI), were commenting on the government's plan to issue new regulations on the way the country manages and protects its forestry resources.

The State Minister of Environment Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, last week said that he has been appointed to coordinate the government's efforts to prevent major forest fires in the future. Sarwono said he plans to tighten the regulations, including those to which forestry concessionaires must comply.

At least 5.11 million hectares of forest, brush and grasslands have been damaged by fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan this year, creating environmental as well as health hazards.

The government will be looking at the parties believed to be responsible for starting the fires, Sarwono said.

Government officials said most of the fires originated from local farmers who still practice slash and burn cultivation. Others were from forestry concessionaires who were clearing the land for timber estates, plantations or new settlement areas.

New rules

Sarwono gave no details of the new rules being envisaged.

Santosa and Indro both said most provincial administrations in Sumatra and Kalimantan have the necessary by-laws.

"As far as I know, several provinces have already issued regulations on the management of forest fires, but I wonder why they have not worked," Santosa said.

He suggested that the government learn the traditional techniques of forest management from the indigenous people. These people have developed special skills in extinguishing fires because the forest is their habitat and their source of food, he added.

Both Santosa and Indro disputed the Ministry of Forestry's contention that the major cause of the fires was the practice of slash and burn cultivation.

They said Sarwono should make an independent study on the real causes of the fires.

A foreign consultant might be hired if necessary, said Santosa.

Indro said that the issuance of the new rules on forest fire prevention should be supported with fiscal and monetary incentives for forest concessionaires who are successful in the implementation of sustainable development concepts.

Indro and Santosa shared the opinion that a greater share of forestry products and funds raised from forestry activities should be given to local governments so they can afford the forest management. Under the current policy, the biggest share goes to central government coffers.

They observed that conflicts of interest among government officials or agencies often obstruct the implementation of the regulation on the Environmental Impact Analysis.

The Ministry of Forestry ruled that a company should make such an analysis when applying for a forestry concession, but the Investment Coordinating Board said it would issue an operation permit for the concessionaires, if they stated that they would make the analysis, Indro pointed out as one inconsistency.

Indro hailed the government's plan to ban the burning of wood waste. To obtain eight cubic meters of timber from a tree, the loggers produced five cubic meters of wood waste, he said.

Beginning next year, concessionaires will be obliged to make wood chips from the waste. (sim)