Thursday July 19, 2012
Halt land clearing now
IT is with deep concern that the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) refers to The Star’s exclusive report,“Kedah govt’s push to make logging a major source of revenue is causing outrage” (July 18).
For several years now, both the Federal and state governments have been promoting and subsidising the expansion of industrial “forest” plantations by the issuance of soft loans.
It was previously announced that RM3bil would be allocated for this purpose.
The official policy is that these new tree farms are to supplement the supply of timber and are not to be established at the expense of natural forest within reserves.
The published condition is that the development “must be on state lands or alienated lands and not on Permanent Reserved Forests”.
MNS notes with alarm that, in practise, vast areas of well-stocked natural forest are being cleared to make way for these plantations.
In particular, the so-called “Latex Timber Clone” (LTC) rubber trees are being planted in place of our native forest species.
Contrary to the official policy we note that land is being bulldozed inside forest reserves and wildlife reserves to make way for these LTC plantations.
We understand that the planned destruction involves thousands of hectares of natural forest throughout peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak.
Critical habitats for wildlife such as tigers and elephants have already begun to be cleared inside the Endau-Kluang Wildlife Reserve in Johor as well as many permanent forest reserves in Kelantan and now, in Kedah.
There has even been extensive clear-felling activities, including the establishment of oil palm plantations inside the Kalabakan Forest Reserve, Sabah.
Disruption of wildlife habitat inevitably leads to conflict such as the case last month where a female elephant was shot near a forest reserve in Labis, Johor.
MNS applauds the formulation of the National Timber Industry Policy which aims to enhance the development of the country’s timber industry and achieve the target of RM53bil in timber exports by 2020.
However, we feel that this target can be reached without having to sacrifice natural forest and thus violate existing federal policies such as the National Biodiversity Policy, the National Physical Plan and the Central Forest Spine Master Plan.
New plantations should be established on idle agricultural land, former tin mining land and road reserves.
Instead, we see that many timber plantation projects are being established on well-stocked natural forests.
It appears that the proponents are just after the logs from the natural forest and are not really interested in the plantations in the long-term.
Indeed, a number of the projects have been abandoned once the natural forest has been cleared of commercial timber and no replanting took place – such as the failed projects in Segamat, Johor, where less than 10% of the area was planted.
The decision to clear natural forest is often made behind closed doors with no prior consultation with environmental and social stakeholders and the general public.
These projects are outrageous because the public expects that areas designated as forest reserves be managed as such and not be cleared for development.
The long-term forest management plans and spatial plans such as the National Physical Plan assume that forest reserves will remain as natural forest.
Forests are held in trust for the rakyat and so decisions affecting their fate should be made with full transparency.
Twenty years ago, the Malaysian Government made a pledge to the world to keep at least 50% of our land area covered with forest.
However, since then we have broken our pledge and let our natural forest cover dwindle to 45% (14.9 million hectares), according to recent independent studies.
Our native flora and fauna are a precious part of our national heritage, therefore the MNS appeals to both states and the Federal governments to put an immediate halt to using federal funds to subsidise clearance projects inside forest reserves.
PROF DR MAKETAB MOHAMED