Peatlands play a crucial role in Indonesia s economic development, and in its stated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Improved peatland management - including a national moratorium on the granting of any new conversion licenses - forms a cornerstone of Indonesia s climate change mitigation commitment. At the same time, rapid expansion of the plantation sector is driving wide-scale drainage and conversion of peat swamp ecosystems. The province of Riau, in central Sumatra, finds itself at the crossroads of these conflicting agendas. This essay presents a case study of three islands on Riau s east coast affected by industrial timber plantation concessions. It examines the divergent experiences, perceptions and responses of communities on the islands. A mix of dramatic protests, localised everyday actions and constructive dialogue has succeeded in delaying or perhaps halting one of the concessions, while negotiations and contestation with the other two continue. With the support of regional and national non-governmental organisations and local government, communities are pursuing alternative development strategies, including the cultivation of sago, which requires no peat drainage. While a powerful political economy of state and corporate actors shapes the contours of socio-environmental change, local social movements can alter trajectories of change, promoting incremental improvements and alternative pathways.