KUALA TERENGGANU: The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) is deeply concerned over the recent degazetting of 4,515 hectares of permanent forest reserves in the state.
The society’s Terengganu branch chairman Wong Chee Ho said the move would affect the ecosystem concerning carbon storage, air and water purification, flood control as well as wildlife sustainability.
He said recent media reports highlighted that degazetted forest reserves, roughly the size of more than 4,500 football fields, were to be given to Terengganu government linked company TDM Bhd for their plantation expansion.
“Malaysia is recognised as one of 12 mega biodiversity countries supporting an unprecedented wealth of wildlife contained within our natural tropical forests.
“However, our forests are dwindling.
“According to a study by the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), high-resolution satellite images showed that forest areas in peninsular Malaysia have declined by 200,000 ha between 2010 and 2015 due to conversion to other land uses,” he said in a statement
Wong said the same study also found that in Terengganu and other states, oil palm and rubber plantations have been the main drivers of deforestation.
“Forests provide a variety of valuable ecosystem services to Malaysia’s people, such as carbon storage, air and water purification, and flood control.
“Researchers from FRIM and Duke University have quantified the impact of deforestation on flood mitigation services in peninsular Malaysia.
“They found that the conversion of 1 per cent of inland forest to oil palm increased the number of flooded days by 26.8 per cent.
“Also, they found that the number of human deaths and flood evacuees per year increased with expanding oil palm acreage,” said Wong.
He added that MNS Terengganu wass not against palm oil as a crop, but its expansion had to follow strict guidelines set by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which prohibits the clearing of high conservation-value forests, according to the New Planting Procedure.
“Instead of converting more forests to oil palm, properly managed forests can provide Terengganu with a sustainable source of income in the form of timber, traditional herbal products, and ecotourism.
“Trengganu has long recognised the value of forests, and hopes to shift emphasis towards nature-based tourism as a key income earner for its people,” said Wong.
Blessed with beautiful islands, expansive sandy coastlines, and tropical forests supporting a diversity of wildlife, ecotourism is the natural solution for Terengganu, he said.
“But ecotourism will only have a chance if the state is serious about protecting its natural heritage.
“By degazetting forest reserves, the state is sending the wrong signal to the world.
“The state government has always maintained an open dialogue with non-governmental organisations like MNS, supporting our initiatives and projects on a regular basis.
“The state has never refused a request from the branch to sit down together and hear our views, and for this the government must be commended,” he said.
Wong added that while everyone wanted prosperity for Terengganu, it required an economy that balanced development with a healthy environment.
He said the current practice of degazetting forest reserves was not sustainable.
“Solutions where revenue can be generated from intact forests and biodiversity are now available.
“We need to start adopting these in order to provide a better future for us,” he said.