Between July and November of this year, a great tract of Earth went up in smoke.
When it was all said and done, NASA satellites detected more than 130,000 fire hotspots across Indonesia. A long dry season coupled with weather patterns created by the El Niño phenomenon created highly flammable conditions for fires to spread, creating the worst fire season in Indonesia’s history and a global environmental catastrophe.
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It is hard to convey the scale of the inferno. Fires raged across the 3,000 mile length of Indonesia, producing more carbon dioxide than the United States in a year. In three weeks at the height of the fires, more CO2 was released than the annual emissions of Germany and the UK combined.
But that doesn’t really capture it. This catastrophe cannot be measured only in parts per million. Each year, some of the oldest and most biodiverse rainforests on Earth are being burned to make way for oil palm plantations. Not only is this a humanitarian issue, as children die from toxic clouds of smoke, but it is a mounting conservation crisis as thousands of acres of rainforest are lost forever and endangered species already on the brink of extinction – the Bornean Orangutan, Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran Tiger, and Bornean Peacock-pheasant suffer further habitat loss
However, reports from Rainforest Trust’s local partner in Sumatra, Yayasan Konservasi Ekosistem Hutan Sumatera (KEHUS), confirmed that thanks to the efforts of over 50 staff members fighting the fires, minimal forest was lost in the spectacular Bukit Tigapuluh project site. Since the greatest burn risks come from land deforested before the fires, the best prevention is the conservation of large areas of forest.
Rainforest Trust has been working with KEHUS to create three protected areas that will conserve a total of 200,396 acres in Central Sumatra.
Thanks to funds raised from supporters, Rainforest Trust was able to protect two of these properties this summer. With additional support, we can secure the final 90,384-acre property and develop wildlife protection units. These highly trained local forest guards will routinely patrol project sites to prevent illegal activities such as logging and poaching. This would create the single most important protected area in Central Sumatra.
“Sumatra’s magnificent lowland forests are among the most biodiverse in Asia,” said Dr. Bert Harris, Rainforest Trust’s Chief Biodiversity Officer. “This expansion of Bukit Tigapuluh National Park will secure one of the largest remnants of this forest and protect it from the deadly cocktail of threats in the region including rampant forest fires.”