Published on 28 February 2023
Forest fires remain a serious threat throughout Central Borneo, especially in peatlands, which are prone to burning during the dry season.
In anticipation of this year’s fire season, the Borneo Nature Foundation (BNF) joined up with the Sebangau National Park Authority to build a network of dams, preventing further drainage from the peat-swamp forest.
Head of the Sebangau Hulu Resort, Anak Agung Gede Eka Purnata, told us that dams are being built to maintain ground water levels, and keeping the peat wet will greatly minimise the risk of forest fires in and around the Sebangau National Park.
“We plan to build 18 dams along the Koran River, blocking four illegal drainage canals. The dams come in three different designs, which depend on the size and condition of the canal. During the dry season, our goal is to maintain water levels at a minimum of 40cm above ground,” he added.
The canals were dug in the 90s by illegal loggers, continued Agung. They used these artificial waterways to extract timber from the forest, transporting logs to the river by boat. However, these canals have also drained away much of the peat water, drying out the forest and leaving it vulnerable to fires.
“Although illegal logging in the National Park has long since stopped, its effects are still felt here today. As a result, BNF Indonesia and the Sebangau National Park Authority are working to restore this critical forest ecosystem by re-wetting the peat and blocking drainage canals,” he said.
BNF’s Habitat Restoration Manager, Daniel Katopo, explained how these illegal canals allow water to escape from the peat-swamp forest, which is naturally absorbent, and flow out into the river. Damming the canals will help stem this constant outflow, holding water within the peat to defend against forest fires.
The dam building itself was carried out by two teams, each consisting of six community members from villages around the Sebangau National Park. For a single team working alone, the first type of dam takes just one day to build, the second takes two days, and the third can take up to three days.
“Dam construction was simple this time because the water levels are already fairly high, making it easier to transport materials. The farthest dam site is about 1.8km from the mouth of the canal, so it’s quite a trek with all our gear,” Idrus said.
Idrus added that damming also improves water availability in the drilled wells used by local teams to combat forest fires, as well as ensuring a constant water source for animals in the forest.
“When the water is high like this, animals often come down to the canal to drink. The water can also be used to fight fires in-situ,” he concluded.
Building dams is part of our integrated strategy for restoring the degraded peatland. Peat re-wetting helps to fire-proof the forest and improves ecosystem health, benefitting both people and wildlife. Until October 2022, 18 dams have been built in four canals namely Betung Canal, Mawan Canal, H. Katiau Canal and Pakudan Canal until October 2022.
Written by: Yohanes Prahara, Content Creator and Media Liaison BNF Indonesia