ARE WE LOSING OUR FORESTS?
By : Chai Mei Ling New Straits Times, Malaysia
The target of having a permanent forest estate of 5.18 million hectares, proposed 30 years ago, has not been met.
HAS there been a net gain or net loss of permanent forest reserves over the past five years?
The answer, it appears, depends on how one, and who, reads government gazettes.According to statistics from state gazettes, state governments added 38,800ha to forest reserves but cut down 40,500ha between 2001 and 2005.
This means that Peninsular Malaysia lost a net total of 1,700ha of its permanent forest reserves in five years. That amounts to more than 2,000 football fields.However, the Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia (JPSM) painted a contrasting picture, with an addition of 6,800ha.
It stated that there was an addition of 23,300ha over the period with omission or degazetted areas of only 16,500ha.When states add forest reserve acreage, they gazette these areas. Similarly, omission means degazettement.
Interestingly, the department also cited the gazettes as its source of information. Discrepancies between the figures in the state gazettes and what the department reported, based on those same figures, are baffling.
For example, JPSM placed reserve cuts at 16,500ha. This does not tally with what the gazettes -- the only legal documents proving a permanent forest reserve addition or excision process -- state. Based on four major excisions plucked from the gazettes, the total had breached the 18,000ha mark.
There were 115 other excisions in those five years.On the inconsistencies, the department said: "Since the procedures of gazettement and degazettement are lengthy and involve several parties, figures might be displaced along the process."Legal processes may take a long time to finalise, but current figures aren't looking too good.
Over the last decade, reserves have been on a slight but steady decline.The National Forestry Council and the National Land Council jointly approved a proposal for a permanent forest estate of 5.18 million hectares (about 40 per cent of Peninsular Malaysia's land area) 30 years ago.
The target has not been met and continues to appear unattainable if the recent trend is anything to go by.Between 1999 and 2004, total reserves fell from 4.85 million hectares to 4.68 million hectares and stabilised at 4.7 million hectares, according to Forestry Department statistics.
On how viable the 5.18 million-hectare target was, considering that Peninsular Malaysia is short of a whopping 480,000ha, the department played down those concerns."The issue of excision and addition is being closely monitored by the authorities. "There are no worries of diminishing reserves in the near future because the role of the Forestry Department pertaining to permanent forest reserves is still relevant."The department said forests played a significant role in the socio-economic development of the country.
However, some of the areas had to be sacrificed or converted to other uses for the betterment of the country, such as in poverty alleviation.This was especially so in the case of massive land development and resettlement sche-mes like Felda, it said."Malaysia aims to be an advanced developing country and should not be hindered by global development issues such as climate change."
Nevertheless, active steps are being undertaken by JPSM and state forestry departments to ensure more gazettement of forest areas and to further classify them as protection forests." Between 2001 and 2005, 200,000ha of forested land had been approved by various state executive councils for gazettement, it added.