Forest and peatland fires occur regularly across Indonesia, resulting in large greenhouse gas emissions and causing major air quality issues. Over the last few decades, Indonesia has also experienced extensive forest loss and conversion of natural forest to oil palm and timber plantations. Here we used data on fire hotspots and tree-cover loss, as well as information on the extent of peat land, protected areas, and concessions to explore spatial and temporal relationships among forest, forest loss, and fire frequency. We focus on the Riau Province in Central Sumatra, one of the most active regions of fire in Indonesia. We find strong relationships between forest loss and fire at the local scale. Regions with forest loss experienced six times as many fire hotspots compared to regions with no forest loss. Forest loss and maximum fire frequency occurred within the same year, or one year apart, in 70% of the 1 km2
cells experiencing both forest loss and fire. Frequency of fire was lower both before and after forest loss, suggesting that most fire is associated with the forest loss process. On peat soils, fire frequency was a factor 10 to 100 lower in protected areas and natural forest logging concessions compared to oil palm and wood fiber (timber) concessions. Efforts to reduce fire need to address the underlying role of land-use and land-cover change in the occurrence of fire. Increased support for protected areas and natural forest logging concessions and restoration of degraded peatlands may reduce future fire risk. During times of high fire risk, fire suppression resources should be targeted to regions that are experiencing recent forest loss, as these regions are most likely to experience fire.
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