Zero evidence of burned peat in Padang Sugihan questionable

(foresthints.news) - LiDAR mapping conducted in support of the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG), under the coordination of the World Resources Institute (WRI), did not capture even a single hectare of evidence of 2015’s burned peat areas in the Padang Sugihan Wildlife Reserve, located in South Sumatra’s OKI regency, one of Indonesia’s four peat restoration priority regencies.

In stark contrast, a verification process undertaken by foresthints.news indicated that almost 65,000 hectares, or approximately three quarters of the wildlife reserve’s area, according to the Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry, does indeed constitute burned forest and land areas from 2015.

This area - nearly as big as Singapore - was subsequently incorporated into part of the targeted indicative peat restoration map published by the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) in mid-September last year.

However, the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping concluded that these almost 65,000 hectares are not made up of 2015’s burned peat areas, in contradiction to the government data.

In fact, the Norwegian-funded LiDAR mapping resulted in more than 55,000 hectares - or 85% of the almost 65,000 hectares of burned peat areas in question - instead being classified as secondary peat swamp forests, of high, medium or low density.

The following USGS Landsat 8 images - presented by the foresthints.news spatial team - depict the Padang Sugihan Wildlife Reserve (delineated in yellow), part of the habitat of the Sumatran elephant, which has had a concentration of fire spots according to NASA’s Active Fire Data, especially in September and October 2015.

The failure by the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping to properly classify even a single hectare of 2015’s almost 65,000 hectares of burned peatlands in a vast expanse of the Padang Sugihan Wildlife Reserve clearly merits public questioning. 

Biased land cover classification 

The classification of almost all of 2015’s burned peat areas in the Padang Sugihan Wildlife Reserve as secondary peat swamp forests, of even a high and medium density, by the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping team plainly represents an example of biased land cover classification.

Furthermore, this classification does not show the distribution of the secondary peat swamp forests, which, according to the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping results, potentially originate from ‘the recovery of vegetation’ in the wake of 2015’s massive peat fires.

Making matters worse, the land cover classification from the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping also omits stretches of secondary peat swamp forests unaffected by 2015’s peat fires, in which land cover was undisturbed.

As previously reported by foresthints.news (Nov 23), the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping classified just 218 hectares as burned peat areas, a mere 0.06% of the 336,000 hectares LiDAR-mapped in the Kayahan hydrological peat landscape in Central Kalimantan’s Pulang Pisau regency. 

Indeed, more than 140,000 hectares - equivalent to nearly twice the size of Singapore - in the peat hydrological landscape were disregarded as evidence of 2015’s burned peat areas by the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping.

Environment and Forestry Minister Dr Siti Nurbaya - as reported by foresthints.news (Nov 24) - cautioned that a mapping system as advanced as LiDAR mapping should have no more than an extremely small level of erroneousness, thereby avoiding any bias in the detailed analysis based on the mapping.

The WRI-coordinated mapping, which essentially was intended to support the peat agency, should have provided a more specific focus on 2015’s burned peat areas, particularly given that the primary consideration underlying the formation of the peat agency was to accelerate the restoration of 2015’s burned peat areas.