Peat agency to fix LiDAR-based land cover misclassification

(foresthints.news) - The Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) has decided to adjust the misclassification of land cover in 2015’s burned peat areas, which derived from LiDAR mapping conducted under the coordination of the World Resources Institute (WRI), by using legal maps.

As previously highlighted by foresthints.news through a series of news reports, the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping made serious errors, in both a legal and technical sense, by classifying the majority of 2015’s burned peat areas as secondary peat swamp forests of a low, medium and high density.

“Adjustments to the legends of the LiDAR-based land cover classifications will be made immediately by referring to legal maps of the expanse of 2015’s burned peat areas,” Peat Agency Chief Nazir Foead explained to foresthints.news during a discussion held in Jakarta a few days before the end of 2017.

The legal maps mentioned by Nazir are the peat agency’s indicative targeted peat restoration maps which were published in mid-September 2016 and developed with reference to the map of the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry.

Nazir went on to point out that the Norwegian-funded LiDAR mapping contains important data components, most notably hydrotopography and contours on a scale of 1: 2,500 which are very useful in peat restoration efforts.

Accurate land cover analysis needed 

With regard to Indonesia's new peat regulations, accurate land cover classifications play a crucial role in prioritizing peat recovery efforts, of which peat restoration is one of the components.

Not surprisingly, the new peat regulations require that spatial analyses related to peat recovery efforts include field checks. In this case, the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping was proved not to have included field checks in making the legends associated with the land cover classifications.

One example of the land cover misclassifications from the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping involves the Kayahan peat hydrological landscape in Central Kalimantan's Pulang Pisau regency covering 336,000 hectares.

The LiDAR-based land cover analysis provided a misleading classification by ignoring an area the size of more than 140,000 soccer fields in the Kahayan peat hydrological landscape which constitutes burned peat areas from 2015. Instead, the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping team classified major part of this as peat swamp forests.

The Google Earth images (10/14/2015) below clearly show the serious flaws in the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping which classified 2015’s burned peat areas as high-density peat swamp forests.

The WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping was also proven to have performed a legally and technically misleading land cover analysis in South Sumatra’s Padang Sugihan Wildlife Reserve by classifying burned peat areas from 2015, almost equivalent in size to Singapore, as secondary peat swamp forests.

In fact, classifying 2015’s burned peat areas as secondary peat swamp forests is tantamount to concluding that 2015’s peat fires didn’t even take place. This is obviously a basic mistake both from a legal perspective as well as based on the facts on the ground.

The establishment of the peat agency by President Joko Widodo in early January 2016 was legally designed for the purpose of accelerating the restoration of 2015's burned peat areas, including those areas that have been partly covered by the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping under the advisory of the peat agency.

As such, the decision by the peat agency chief to adjust the erroneous land cover classifications made by the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping team is the right move, from both a legal and technical standpoint.