Sources of anthropogenic fire ignitions on the peat-swamp landscape in Kalimantan, Indonesia

Fire disturbance in many tropical forests, including peat swamps, has become more frequent and extensive in recent decades. These fires compromise a variety of ecosystem services, among which mitigating global climate change through carbon storage is particularly important for peat swamps. Indonesia holds the largest amount of tropical peat carbon globally, and mean annual CO2 emissions from decomposition of deforested and drained peatlands and associated fires in Southeast Asia have been estimated at ∼2000 Mt y-1. A key component to understanding and therefore managing fire in the region is identifying the land use/land cover classes associated with fire ignitions. We assess the oft-asserted claim that escaped fires from oil palm concessions and smallholder farms near settlements are the primary sources of fire in a peat-swamp forest area in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, equivalent to around a third of Kalimantan's total peat area. We use the MODIS Active Fire product from 2000 to 2010 to evaluate the fire origin and spread on the land use/land cover classes of legal, industrial oil palm concessions (the only type of legal concession in the study area), non-forest, and forest, as well as in relation to settlement proximity. We find that most fires (68–71%) originate in non-forest, compared to oil palm concessions (17%–19%), and relatively few (6–9%) are within 5 km of settlements. Moreover, most fires started within oil palm concessions and in close proximity to settlements stay within those boundaries (90% and 88%, respectively), and fires that do escape constitute only a small proportion of all fires on the landscape (2% and 1%, respectively). Similarly, a small proportion of fire detections in forest originate from oil palm concessions (2%) and within close proximity to settlements (2%). However, fire ignition density in oil palm (0.055 ignitions km−2) is comparable to that in non-forest (0.060 km-2 ignitions km-2), which is approximately ten times that in forest (0.006 ignitions km−2). Ignition density within 5 km of settlements is the highest at 0.125 ignitions km−2. Furthermore, increased anthropogenic activity in close proximity to oil palm concessions and settlements produces a detectable pattern of fire activity. The number of ignitions decreases exponentially with distance from concessions; the number of ignitions initially increases with distance from settlements, and, around from 7.2 km, then decreases with distance from settlements. These results refute the claim that most fires originate in oil palm concessions, and that fires escaping from oil palm concessions and settlements constitute a major proportion of fires in this study region. However, there is a potential for these land use types to contribute substantially to the fire landscape if their area expands. Effective fire management in this area should therefore target not just oil palm concessions, but also non-forested, degraded areas where ignitions and fires escaping into forest are most likely to occur.
  • Authors: Cattau, M.E., Harrison, M.E., Shinyo, I., Tungau, S., Uriarte, M., DeFries, R.
  • Author Affiliation: Columbia University, Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project, Universitas Palangka Raya, University of Leicester
  • Subjects: wildfires, forest fires, peat, swamps, wetlands, human activities, peatlands, tropics
  • Publication type: Journal Article
  • Source: Global Environmental Change 39: 205-219
  • Year: 2016
  • DOI:
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