Protecting peatlands in Borneo: A Dayak woman’s story

Conservation Blog

Written by Desi Natalia (BNF’s Communications Officer)

This year we will expand the scope of our work in and nearby the Sabangau Forest, home to the world’s largest population of Bornean orangutans, thanks to the support of the Indonesia Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF). This work will be led by our Conservation Programme in collaboration with NGO’s in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. We will share our knowledge and skills to achieve our ultimate goal of protecting Borneo’s amazing forests and biodiversity.

Siska, Conservation Programme Manager

The Conservation Programme is led by a Dayak woman named Yunsiska Ermiasi, who is usually called Siska. We are delighted to introduce you to Siska, BNF’s Conservation Manager, and her responsibility in leading this Programme.

Siska began working in conservation in 2004 with the Centre for the International Cooperation in Sustainable Management of Tropical Peatland (CIMTROP) at the University of Palangka Raya (Central Kalimantan), one of our local partners. She was inspired to work in conservation because of her curiosity about peatlands and the challenges we face when trying to protect these unique and important habitats.

In 2016, Siska was given the opportunity to work with BNF as our new Conservation Manager. She accepted because of her belief in BNF’s commitment to protect Borneo’s biodiversity. With the help of the Community Patrol Team and our Nursery Coordinator, Siska began to reforest the burnt areas in Sabangau and continued our work to rewet this peatland, protecting the area from fires in the future.

Siska and Udin (Nursery Coordinator) check reforestation plots
Photo by Pau Brugues Sintes/BNF

The Conservation Programme’s main objective for this year is to restore 5,190 hectares in the Natural Laboratory of Peat-Swamp Forest in Sabangau. Siska and the field team will focus on rewetting and reforesting this area (building 150 dams on 8 canals, planting 1,700 seedlings and distributing 8,000 seeds), establishing two new firefighting teams, supporting two existing firefighting teams as well as community outreach.

Siska will manage this project and ensure it progresses in the field. Even though she’s only a small woman in size, her spirit and strength of character is big enough to take on this large project.

Siska said, “There are many people from the team who support me to help protect the forest and make the peatland healthy again. Many ideas from the team will help ensure this project is successful.”

At first, Siska thought that it’s impossible to spread the seeds in the burnt areas deep in the forest, but the team have an idea to put the seeds, mixed with soil in organic boxes made from coco palm leaves. Siska says that she feels really positive about this idea and there is also a plan to make a new seedling nursery near the burnt area before planting, so it will reduce the stress that the plants experience when being transported into the forest.

She has a hope that when the Sabangau Forest is healthy again, the people from the village of Kereng Bangkerai, just across the river, will protect it and use wisely the forest for their own livelihoods. It’s not just her hope, but she shares this with the team. Dayak people that work in conservation always have a similar hope for the forest and people who live nearby.

We are proud to have a strong Dayak woman, like Siska, leading the Conservation Programme. We want to empower Dayak people to join our mission as they are the conservationists of their own homelands.

Siska and the Conservation Team survey a burnt area for reforestation
Photo by Yuyus Sera/BNF