Best of our wild blogs: 4 Jul 16

Pesta Ubin 2016 Commonest Bird Quest
Singapore Bird Group

Sunbeam Snake (Xenopeltis unicolor) @ Punggol Road
Monday Morgue

Read more!

Some 300 fire-linked hot spots detected in Indonesia

Arlina Arshad Straits Times 4 Jul 16;

Almost 300 hot spots were detected over Sumatra and Kalimantan yesterday that were due to forest and land fires, and the number is expected to increase in the coming dry months.

The figures were disclosed as news emerged of an interview given by the Singapore envoy in Jakarta, who said the Republic would continue to pursue those responsible for haze-belching forest fires in South-east Asia last year.

"We are going after, to put it starkly, the bad guys that are causing this problem," Mr Anil Kumar Nayar told the Agence France-Presse news agency last week. He said Singapore was not crossing any line in pursuing these companies and was within its rights to enforce its law.

"We are not doing something that is extraordinary. It is not targeting any country or anybody's sovereignty," he added.

His comments came amid tensions between Indonesia and Singapore over the latter's decision to take action against a director of an Indonesian firm linked to last year's regional haze, considered to be one of the worst in recent history.

The crisis affected millions across South-east Asia and caused more than half a million Indonesians to suffer from severe respiratory illnesses. Errant pulp and paper firms have been blamed for the fires.

Satellites yesterday recorded 288 hot spots - 245 hot spots over Sumatra island and 43 over Kalimantan - Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a statement.

The figure is small compared with about 3,000 at the height of last year's crisis, but he warned that the "potential for fires will increase" in the drier months of July to September. "Dry conditions, scarcity of water and difficulty in accessing the locations will make it hard to douse the fires," he said.

Two helicopters and two air-tractor waterbombers were deployed to spray water from the air in Riau province, which had 26 hot spots. Troops, police and personnel from other agencies are controlling the blazes on the ground, he said. "Most of the hot spots are a result of intentional burning," he said. He did not say who were behind the fires but advised the community not to clear land by setting fires.

Last Friday, major palm oil companies said they have ditched a landmark "zero deforestation" pact, saying the government's recent efforts to strengthen its certification standards were sufficient.

The 2014 Indonesia Palm Oil Pledge, or Ipop, was hailed as one that would boost efforts to fight rampant deforestation, annual forest fires and choking haze.

Read more!

Singapore to pursue firms over fires, despite Indonesian ire

Channel NewsAsia 3 Jul 16;

JAKARTA: Singapore is refusing to back down in its pursuit of those responsible for haze-belching forest fires in Southeast Asia last year, despite struggling to bring the perpetrators before the courts and drawing a sharp rebuke from neighbouring Indonesia.

Forest fires are part of an annual dry-season problem in Indonesia, started illegally to quickly and cheaply clear land for cultivation -- particularly for palm oil and pulpwood.

But last year's haze outbreak was among the worst in memory, shrouding Malaysia, Singapore, and parts of Thailand in acrid smoke and forcing school closures as pollution reached hazardous levels and thousands fell sick across the region.

Singapore has served notice to six Indonesian companies it believes may have cleared land by burning but could target others as investigations continue, according to Singapore's ambassador to Indonesia Anil Kumar Nayar.

"We are going after, to put it starkly, the bad guys that are causing this problem," he told AFP in an interview last week.

However, the city-state's efforts to punish Indonesian companies under its own anti-haze law have become a flashpoint with Jakarta.

Singapore argues that international rules allow states to take action -- even if harm is being caused by activities outside its jurisdiction -- but Jakarta has questioned how Singapore could pursue Indonesian citizens for prosecution, especially in the absence of a ratified extradition treaty between the neighbours.

The latest sabre-rattling came after Singapore issued a court warrant in May to detain a director of an Indonesian company linked to the haze while he was in the city-state.

Afterwards, Indonesia's Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said that she would be reviewing her ministry's cooperation with Singapore on environmental issues.

"Singapore cannot step further into Indonesia's legal domain," Bakar told reporters in June. Her spokesman declined to comment further on the matter when contacted.

Nayar reiterated that Singapore wasn't crossing any line pursuing these companies and was within its rights to enforce its law.

"We are not doing something that is extraordinary. It is not targeting any country, or anybody's sovereignty," he said.

The law threatens local and foreign firms with fines of up to $100,000 Singaporean dollars (US$74,000) for every day Singapore endures unhealthy haze pollution.

So far just two of the companies have responded to the court order, Nayar said, without naming specific firms.


Singapore has repeatedly asked Indonesia for details about companies -- such as maps showing who owns what concessions -- but says Jakarta has not provided any information.

Singapore would "continue to press", Nayar said, but added the evidence needed to prosecute these companies could be found by other means.

"We could go that way as well, but at the end of the day this is part of a legal process. We want to be working with the Indonesian government," he said.

One of Indonesia's main arguments is that a regional approach to solving the haze crisis would be more effective than individual action.

"They (Singapore) know our view on this, on how we can best address this issue of haze through the ASEAN mechanism," ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told AFP.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has an agreement to create a haze-free region by 2020, though it took 14 years to be fully ratified.

Nayar says regional progress on curbing haze has been slow.

Fellow ASEAN member Malaysia, which also suffers during the haze outbreaks, has expressed interest in adopting its own law similar to Singapore's to pursue errant companies.

Jakarta has promised tougher action in the wake of last year's haze disaster, which turned skies yellow in Indonesia's part of Borneo island and dealt the economy a $16 billion blow.

The government announced in May it would no longer grant new land for palm oil plantations, and established a new agency to restore millions of hectares of carbon-rich peatlands susceptible to fires.


Read more!

Malaysia: Tourists messing up Mossy Forest, says NGO

FERNANDO FONG Straits Times 4 Jul 16;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: An environmental non-governmental organisation has hit out at the Pahang Forestry Department and tour operators for ruining Cameron Highlands’s Mossy Forest, which is famed for its Lord of the Rings-like scenery.

Regional Environmental Awareness of Cameron Highlands president Ramakrishnan Ramasamy claimed that the department and tour operators had become out of touch with the natural environment, which theypurportedly protected, as the forest was going bald.

He said the department and tour operators had become irrelevant as they failed to protect Mossy Forest, located in Gunung Brinchang.

He said the forest continued to degrade as a result of tourists stepping on the moss there.

Ramasamy said moss was particularly sensitive, and damage caused by footprints could take a very long time to “heal”.

“They (state Forestry Department and tour operators) are setting a bad example when it comes to protecting Cameron Highlands’s fragile nature “Instead of guiding tourists to walk on the boardwalk, they allow tourists to trample on the sensitive moss in Mossy Forest.

“Some tourists even climb trees in the forest, when they should stay on the boardwalk,” he told the New Straits Times.

He said tour operators made things worse by opening up new trails in Mossy Forest. Ramasamy urged people to respect nature, reminding them that walking off-trail and illegally intruding into forests were unacceptable.

The state Forestry Department and tour operators have also come under fire from the environmentalist for allowing tourists to litter in Mossy Forest.

“They should ensure that tourists take the litter with them when they leave.”

A recent visit by the NST confirmed Ramasamy’s claims.

A tour guide, who declined to be named, said Mossy Forest was a rare treasure and some people might not realise its true value.

“We try to be strict with our guests, but more public awareness is needed. This will take time.

“Perhaps, the state Forestry Department can impose an entry fee on guests.

“The money can be used to maintain Mossy Forest,” said the tour guide, who is from Tanah Rata.

The department could not be reached for comment at press time.

Last year, the department closed Mossy Forest for six months in what has been viewed as an unsuccessful attempt to allow the moss there to recover.

Read more!