Thursday, 30 August 2007

Satellite photos confirm widespread logging on Umno’s land, Malaysia

COMMENT: This IS clearly yet another man-made environmental disaster linked to oil palm companies. So, let's see which household name international conservation NGO groups protest this and generally raise hell. It's worrying that not one such organisation is even quoted in this article - presumably the reporter could not think of a group who is actually doing anything on these issues in Malaysia

When published, this article was illsutrated with the satellite photos it mentions.

Satellite photos confirm widespread logging on Umno’s land, Malaysia
Steven Gan
Aug 7, 03 5:02am

Exclusive In the movie ‘Signs’, a Pennsylvanian family discovered huge crop circles on their cornfield, left there by aliens. Malaysia, too, has one such ‘sign’. This one, however, is the work of humans, and instead of circles, it is an oblong square. The ‘sign’ is revealed in satellite images obtained by malaysiakini of a virgin forest given to the ruling Umno party in Pahang that has been systematically logged over the past years.

What is left now is a huge oblique patch - about 60 sq km in size - visible from space. The bright green plot, as seen in the satellite photos, is what was once 10,000 acres of virgin peat swamp forest in southeast Pahang, which had been methodically clear-felled.

On paper, the Umno Pahang land should be about 40 sq km, but it appears to be closer to 60 sq km in the satellite images. Industry sources said this could be because loggers might have encroached into the neighbouring forest reserve and wiped out a large slice of the protected wetland. The images were taken by Landsat - a satellite launched by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) - from an altitude of approximately 700km.
Collaborating images were acquired from the French Space Agency’s Spot satellite, which orbits at around 800km up.

One close-up image shows the controversial Umno plot crisscrossed with straight lines which industry experts say are canals. These canals run deep into the forest and are used to transport the logs as building roads would be too costly.
Bulldozers tugged the felled logs into the canals, and from there the logs were drawn by barges to waiting trucks near the outskirts of the forest.
The close-up image also depicts bulldozer tracks, represented by faint fine lines branching out from the canals.

Ladang Umno
The Pahang government in 1998 - under then mentri besar Khalil Yaacob - gave the huge piece of land to the state Umno, a party led by the menteri besar himself.
Dubbed as Ladang Umno (Umno plantation) by those close to the industry, the forest near Nenasi - a town about 50km south of Pekan - was cleared ostensibly for oil palm plantation.

But today - with most, if not all, of the trees gone - there are no signs that the ruling political party is going ahead with its plantation plan.
Forestry consultant Lim Teck Wyn, who has 10 years of experience in the industry, told malaysiakini that Ladang Umno is not suitable for oil palm cultivation. The land, he said, is a peat swamp forest, most parts of which are under at least one metre of water.

Umno Pahang would need to drain the entire tract if it is to be made viable for oil palm cultivation. Lim, who has provided consultancy services to a major logging company in Pahang, said that draining such a vast plot will be a monumental task.
But even if Ladang Umno is indeed earmarked for oil palm plantation, the devastation of such a virgin forest is expected to draw criticism from the country’s major trading partners.

Some European countries have balked at purchasing Malaysia-produced palm oil because of allegations that the industry contributed to widespread deforestation.
Early this year, Primary Industries Minister Dr Lim Keng Yaik went to Europe on a mission to counter these allegations, and help countries there to "see the forest for the trees".

"We are the biggest palm oil exporter in the world with an established system in place," said the minister. "There is no need to clear forests and replace them with palm trees."

Dwindling wildlife
The Umno land is located in southeast Pahang’s permanent forest reserve, which is by far the largest and oldest virgin peat swamp forest in Asia.
Peat swamp forests are the country’s most biologically diverse and most threatened of wetland areas.

According to a United Nations Development Programme report, the southeast Pahang peat swamp forest is home to many of Malaysia’s endangered species - elephants, rhinos, tigers, clouded leopards and tapirs.

Altogether, 15 mammal, nine bird, three reptile and two tree species which have been categorised as ‘globally threatened’ can be found in the area.
"The clearance of the forest for plantation eliminates all original plant species and virtually all animal species. It is unlikely that displaced animals, other than a few large mammals, will be able to emigrate to surrounding areas. Most or all will die," said forestry expert Lim.

"Of those animals which are able to translocate to the adjacent forests, their survival rates will be low - the region already has a limited carrying capacity."
Peat swamp forests also act as carbon sinks and play an important role in regulating floods as well as providing water during droughts.

However, unsustainable logging and drainage would dry out top peat layers, making it prone to forest fires and causing a loss of biodiversity and water resources.
"In 1996, the Nenasi forest was declared an environmentally sensitive area in the Pekan district structural plan, and the area was also gazetted as a permanent forest reserve. The fact that such an area can be clear-fell points to severe shortcomings in the existing legal framework," said Lim.

Law suit
The Umno land is now the subject of a law suit filed by Kuantan-based logging company Seruan Gemilang Makmur (SGM), which was given the task to log the land three years ago.

The company recently sought RM31 million in compensation through the courts from Pahang Umno after the party failed to secure a licence from the state forestry department for SCM to complete clearing the land.
From the satellite photos, Ladang Umno was almost logged out by the time SGM was awarded the concession in 2000.

Industry expert Lim said that the initial clearing could be done by other logging companies after the land was approved in 1998.
"Clear-cutting is often done in stages. The first to go in will extract the best and biggest trees. The concession is later given to others for a second round of logging, who will pick up the leftovers. SCM appears to be one of these salvage loggers."

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, when asked about the matter last week, said that state land could not be given to a political party, and vowed to investigate the matter.

Meanwhile, Pahang Mentri Besar Adnan Yaacob told reporters that the party was not involved in the botched logging deal with SGM.