The Fire-Fighting Project - OuTrop Update

Orangutan Appeal UK have been supporting the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop) to help carry out their vital work since 2012.  We support not only the team but also provide essential equipment. We recently provided a grant of £6277 to fund the purchase of new drone technology and software to support their fire-fighting efforts.

Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop) work to protect the Sabangau Forest region in Central Kalimantan, home to nearly 7,000 orangutans, from destructive forest fires by fighting outbreaks and creating dams.  The project works closely with the experienced local team, known as TSA , patrolling the forest area and searching for new outbreaks of fire, illegal activity that could lead to fires, they also identify areas to create dams to aid hydrological restoration.

 

 

Funds are desperately needed. Fires are raging and the firefighters are working tirelessly to try to keep them under control. 

To donate to this project please go to our Donations Page and select the Fire-Fighting Project

 

Progress Report: July - September 2015

The Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop) works to protect large forested landscapes in Central Kalimantan, which contain several of the most important remaining populations of the Bornean orangutan. We do this through programmes of habitat conservation, forest restoration, community engagement and research, with our main aim being to protect wild orangutans in-situ in their natural environment.

Our primary focus site is the Sabangau Forest, which is the largest intact peat-swamp forest and contiguous block of lowland rainforest remaining on Borneo, and as such contains the world’s largest orangutan population. Orangutans are Sabangau’s flagship species for all our work to protect this fragile habitat and its wonderful biodiversity. Sabangau is home to many endangered species of plant and animal; provides clean water, air, fish stocks, non-timber forest products and many other natural-resource functions that benefit the surrounding communities; and is a major global store of terrestrial carbon, with a thick peat layer up to 15 m deep that stores 90% of the forest’s biomass.

Despite Sabangau’s officially protected status, it remains at risk because of high local demand for timber, animals and other forest products; clearing and development of adjacent land; and in particular from fire owing to the long-term consequences of past illegal logging.

Illegal loggers dug narrow channels in the peat to float out felled timber, and larger canals were dug in some areas to drain the peatland for proposed agricultural projects. These channels remain long after the immediate logging problem has gone, draining the once water-logged peat and making it vulnerable to fire. Huge areas of drained peatland in Kalimantan have been laid waste by fires over the past 15 years, representing a global ecological disaster. Our active restoration work in Sabangau includes filling-in drainage channels to restore natural hydrology, and replanting burnt and degraded areas of forest.

Peat fires occur annually and are the single biggest risk to the Sabangau Forest. Fires arise every dry season and are often the result of land-clearing by burning in neighbouring farms, or fishermen starting small fires on river banks. The fire risk is severe this year, as a strong El Niño impacts the region and is predicted to continue into 2016. This is placing the Sabangau Forest and its orangutan population under serious threat, in addition to creating toxic haze that is making local people sick and has led Palangka Raya to be classed as currently the most polluted city on Earth.

In response and with support from OAUK, the local CIMTROP Community Patrol Team have been conducting daily forest patrols in the forest in NLPSF and its waterways for fire, and extinguishing any fires that do emerge. This includes three major fires occurring in the sedge area bordering the forest, less than 2 km from or research camp. Fortunately, with help from our research staff, the Community Patrol Team was able to bring these fires under control within a few hours, preventing damage to the forest.

In the past, this work has been hampered by difficulties in detecting and monitoring fires over the large landscape, and in assessing the constantly-evolving extent of fires in active hotspot areas. The large size and difficulty of access of the NLPSF, plus difficulty in obtaining good visuals from the ground to assess fires, makes these critical tasks both difficult and dangerous for on-the-ground fire-fighting teams. To overcome these obstacles, and with support provided by OAUK though this award, we are trialling the use of conservation drones to assess and monitor fire from the air.

With a strong El Niño event currently underway, fires are currently raging throughout Kalimantan and an official State of Emergency has been declared in Central Kalimantan for this reason. Fires are emerging everywhere, with around 9,735 fires detected in Borneo and Sumatra during September 2015 alone. Consequently, working together with the Community Patrol Team, we have been focusing mainly on using the drone to spot and tackle fires during the current fire fighting season.

During September and the beginning of October, the drone has been used for both fire-fighting strategy planning and daily fire monitoring. It has proved to be a very useful tool for the fire-fighting teams, not only to decide how to tackle the fire, but also to help optimize resources and minimize risks from fighting the fires. The drone can fly up to 700 m depending on the environmental conditions, covering an area of 1,530,000 m2 (150 ha) in only 30 minutes. This is especially useful specially when fighting and monitoring peat fires, as most of the burn occurs below ground. This means that surface flames are not always visible and searching for (unseen, underground) hotspots by foot can be very dangerous. The drone helps reduce this risk.

 

Some UK national newspapers have also reported the devasting fires, please click the links below to read more:

The Guardian 7th October 2015 - Indonesian forest fires on track to emit more CO2 than the UK

The Express 7th October 2015 - Monster forest fires in last great wilderness have begun global ecological disaster