Smog caused by huge fires in Sumatra and Borneo is one of the most well known news in Indonesia media recently. I would like to describe this phenomenon as this century’s biggest crime to humanity with residents who live in three main Islands (Sumatera, Borneo or Kalimantan, Celebes or Sulawesi) become the victims. Sadly, although this disaster has been well informed within Indonesia, not all people learn from it, including people on Bawean Island. Most people prefer to blame the government without addressing the main problem, which is forest destruction. This is my third time on Bawean island and I found the rate of forest burning in this Island is getting more severe. In November 2014, when I first came to the island, local people used to burn community forest located nearby the main road so it is easily spotted. By that time the forest ranger could not do anything as this forest is located outside the protected area, thus it is legal to burn the forest. However now in October 2015, at my third visit, people burn the community forest nearby the border of the protected areas. Since right now it is the dry season when the wind blows heavily and it has not been raining for seven months, the impact is easily predicted: the fires spread to the protected area. Parts of the forest are now burning, for example in Alas Timur (See picture) and very close to Payung-Payung, where we also have camera traps installed.
Community forest is burnt near Payung-Payung
In the daylight when we were driving home after installing the camera traps, we could see thick smoke moving up toward the sky from places within the hilly forests. We have no idea which forest was being burned. The forest rangers have tried to discourage this action, unfortunately they don’t have enough evidence that people cause burning near or within the protected area. The reason is that the protected areas are poorly demarcated; the poles which are placed along the forest border to determine the protected area are mostly not in good condition and some of them even disappeared. It is difficult for the rangers to determine forest borders from a map, let along explain the border to the people. As a consequence, only one case of burning protected forest has been investigated so far. The purpose of forest burning mostly remains unknown. In my assumption, people do not worry about burning the forest on Bawean because they are convinced that a national disaster like on Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi can not happen in their own native area because there is no peat land on Bawean. They forget that the impact of forest burning is not only smog, but also the destruction of the forest, even if it is accidentally. This may entail biodiversity reduction, species extirpation and ecosystem destruction. If they continue with this habit of burning land, especially species that are endemic to Bawean and only occur here, may face extinction during the next decades.