KULIM: The Kedah Forestry Department is probing a syndicate specialising in encroaching forest reserves in the state to plant oil palm trees, before selling them to willing buyers at a cheap price.
The department launched the probe following the discovery of the activity at the 30-hectare Gunung Bongsu forest reserve here - the third case in the state.
Southern Kedah District Forest officer Mohamad Faisal Nasaruddin said the syndicate not only steal timber from the forest reserves, but also pocket more money from their illicit activity by planting oil palm trees and selling the plots at a bargain prices of between RM10,000 to RM30,000 each.
“We wish to advise the public not to be duped by such offers as it is illegal. The department has the authority to destroy the plants and seize the land.
“We uncovered the syndicate's activity from the two earlier cases in Bukit Perangin, Jitra and Bukit Perak in Pendang involving some 20 hectares and 36 hectares of forest reserves,” he said.
Earlier today, the department demolished some 4,000 oil palm trees in the encroached Compartment 25 and 26 of the Gunung Bongsu forest reserve.
The demolition operation was carried out under the state-level National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) Integrated Operation, with the cooperation of 13 agencies.
Among the agencies involved are the Peninsular Malaysia Forestry Department, State Forestry Department, police, state National Integrity and Good Governance Department, state Land and Mines Office, Kulim Land Office, Kulim District Council, Public Works Department, People's Volunteer Corps (Rela), Kulim Penghulu office, as well as the Kulim/Bandar Baharu Parliamentary service centre and Kulim constituency service centre.
The site's encroachment was uncovered through satellite images obtained from the department’s Remote Sensing System.
“Besides the trees, we also tore down six huts built for workers at the site.
“We believe the syndicate was in the process of planting more oil palm trees in the area before selling them to willing buyers after stealing timber with a market value of about RM100,000 from the forest reserve compartment about a year ago,” he said.
Faisal said the department would proceed with the reforestation works at the site at a cost of RM100,000.
He added that the department is in the process of identifying individuals behind the site's encroachment.
The case is being investigated under Section 81 (g) of the National Forestry Enactment 1985 for encroaching forest reserves, which carries a fine not more than RM10,000 or jail term up to three years, or both, upon conviction.
Faisal urged the public to immediately alert the department should they notice any suspicious logging activity at forest reserves in the state.