Destruction of a Wildlife Reserve
Padang Sugihan Wildlife Reserve, about 75 000 ha, was established in 1983 after 232 elephants (currently only 64 remain in the reserve) were moved to the area from surrounding land in December 1982. Air Sugihan and Air Padang form the eastern and western borders of the reserve. The northern boundary is marked by a large canal linking the two rivers and is the southern limit of the Air Saleh Sugihan transmigration area. The southern boundary approximates to the limit of the swampland where it adjoins dryland - it also very roughly follows the boundary between Kabupaten Musibanyuasin and Kabupaten Ogan Komering Ilir.
The area is flat swampland, a mixture of peatland (50-200 cm peat depth) and coalescent estuarine/riverine plains. Some 15% of the reserve is permanently waterlogged peaty floodplain (RePPProT data). At the time the reserve was created, the vegetation comprised five distinct belts - from west to east these comprised successively riverine swamp forest by the Air Padang, Melaleuca forest, mixed peatswamp forest, Melaleuca forest, and open grassland by the Air Sugihan. These habitats have been considerably modified over time, with most of the changes occurring since the 1970s when Government initiated large-scale development of the swamplands of the Musibanyuasin delta for transmigration settlement and, as originally planned, tidal rice cultivation. At about the same time timber concessions were let over most of the coastal swampland.
Data held by FFPCP show the entire reserve area allocated as HPH during the mid to late 1970s (PT Daya Penca and PT Wijaya Murni). There were also plans to develop the area for transmigration and prior to 1983 six deep and 20 metre wide drains were constructed between the rivers before the settlement proposal was abandoned. These provided easy access for illegal logging. In the mid-1980s there were reported to be 39 unlicensed and illegal sawmills operating on the Padang and Sugihan rivers. A few of these sawmills are still in place but most have ceased operation owing to the general absence of timber.
Access is by boat via Sungai Kumbang or by road from Palembang through Cinta Manis transmigration area to Sebokor. A BKSDA office is located near Sebokor.
Information on the Reserve is provided by the Indonesian Nature Conservation Database (http://www.nature-conservation.or.id/padang.html) and the WCMC Protected Areas Database (http://www.wcmc.org.uk/protected_areas/data/sample/1786v.htm).
By 1992, Landsat imagery of the reserve showed that only two fragments of the mixed peat swamp forest remained and that these were in the southern third of the reserve, an area that had not been drained. These two patches of forest were outliers of the extensive peat swamp forest that formerly covered a deep peat formation between the Sugihan River and the coast. Where disturbed by logging and drainage, this type of forest has been prone to fire damage during drought years, the last of which have been in 1991, 1994 and most recently and most severely in 1997 when nearly all the peat swamp forest in this coastal region of South Sumatra was destroyed. By 1998, the imagery showed that both these peat swamp forest remnants in the reserve had disappeared, destroyed probably by the 1994 drought and accompanying fires.
The reserve appears to have no remaining closed canopy forest and the vegetation cover is now an association of bushy regrowth with scattered Melaleuca (belukar terpencar dengan Melaleuca) and grassland with scattered trees (padang rumput dengan <10% pohon-pohon). During years with a normal dry season, fires are not a serious problem. But during El Nino related drought years with more than two consecutive months of very low rainfall, these swamps dry out sufficiently for more serious, long-lasting and smoke-rich peat fires to develop.
The prevailing winds are from the southeast during the potential drought periods, usually August-October, and therefore threaten to carry severe smoke haze pollution towards Palembang some 30 km downwind. A similar situation currently (22 September 2001) prevails in Palangkaraya where peat ground fires in the derelict Mega Rice Project in Central Kalimantan have been burning continuously since mid-July. Chronic haze problems, including periodic closure of the airport, continue to plague the city (Kompas, 21 September 2001).
See mini-haze event in Central Kalimantan.
Padang Sugihan burning on 15 September 1999 (a very minor fire by the standards of 1997)
Loss by fire of forest cover in Padang Sugihan Wildlife Reserve, boundary marked in red, and adjacent swamp forest 1986-1992. All the swamp forest shown on the images (about 100x80 km) was destroyed by 1998. Palembang is located by the Musi River on the mid left side of images. Ignore the courtesy and copyright – images thanks to the Tropical Rain Forest Information Center, Michigan State University, http://www.bsrsi.msu.edu/
And, yes, the dates are correct.