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The illegal logging activities taking place near Kg Bukit Telaga in Fraser’s Hill. File pic by ZUNNUR AL SHAFIQ.

KUANTAN: It was the tragic death of a logging operator which eventually exposed logging activities at Fraser’s Hill in Raub, which could pose a threat to the fragile ecosystem at one of the country’s popular highland retreats.

Seow Ah Kiat, 63, was awarded the contract to conduct logging works at the site, located not far from Kampung Bukit Telaga, an Orang Asli settlement.

He was killed in an incident on Aug 21 when a huge rock along with soil had landed on him while his son, who was with him, escaped unhurt.

It was reported that the duo were inspecting the road near the site which was said to have only started land clearing works just several weeks earlier. Both were on foot when boulders and loose soil suddenly came crashing down from a slope.

News of the incident prompted the Association for the Protection of the Natural Heritage of Malaysia (Peka), who has been against logging in the area since 2012, to send their team to inspect the site.

Upon noticing the extent of the damage, Peka wrote to the state Forestry Department before a stop order on all logging activities at the site was issued on Sept 8.

Kampung Bukit Telaga village headman Asai Enjak said prior to the incident, he met Seow in early August when huge machines arrived to clear the trees to build roads to the logging site.

“The villagers have been always against land clearing at the site which is located at the base of Fraser’s Hill and when Seow told me had received the approval from the state government, there was nothing we could do.

“After the tragedy, I noticed that huge groups of people including Forestry officers frequenting the site before villagers were informed that works have been told to stop. Land clearing works have stopped since early last month and all the machines were removed from the site,” he said when contacted today.

Asai said he did not notice any vehicle movements at the logging site since all activities were halted last month and furthermore the main entrance to the site has been blocked.

“We have not spotted anything suspicious and Forestry officers were also seen occasionally inspecting the area. The site which was once in a mess with huge machines has returned to its usual self and I hope the situation will remain,” he said, adding that his concern now is the possibility of mudslides should heavy rain lash the exposed soil.

Asai said the stop work order has also spared the main road connecting their settlement and the nearby Tras town where their children attend schools. If the logging activities were to resume, the narrow stretch will be further damaged.

Meanwhile, a Peka spokesman said the non-governmental organisation has been always against the idea to approve logging activities in the area since 2012 and the then district forestry officer has never issued any approval for land clearing works.

“Only after the accident (which killed Seow), Peka realised that logging works had begun at the site and we immediately wrote to the Forestry Department before a stop order covering the removal of logs and the construction of roads to logging sites was issued.

“The earth in the respective section is fragile and land clearing activities could trigger soil movements which could result in disasters. Peka will be visiting the site again next week to check on its condition and if there were irresponsible parties trying their luck to remove the logs,” said the spokesman.

It was reported that Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the plot was state government land with mining lots within the Batu Talam Forest Reserve, which was about 15km from Fraser’s Hill and the Pahang Forestry Department had issued a licence for the plot effective July 15 to Jan 14 next year.

The New Straits Times reported on Sept 26 on logging activities near the Fraser’s Hill area, which had been gazetted as primary forest reserve and water catchment area.

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