KUALA LANGAT: Tok Batin Sari Senin from Kampung Busut Baru was struggling to hold back tears as he made his plea to save the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve which has been proposed for degazettement.
He was among 2,000 Orang Asli from seven villages who would be affected with the degazettement plan for 930.93ha or 97 per cent of the forest reserve.
"We were relocated from our original homes to make way for the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) project in Sepang. Now we learn that the forest here is to be degazetted and that a project will be carried out here.
"While the state government has given the assurance that our settlements will not be affected, this won't do us any good if the forest, which is our wandering area, is degazetted and cleared.
"The forest is our home, it's our means of survival. If you take it away from us, how are we supposed to survive? The forest is our heritage that needs to be protected for our future generation, not only for the village folks but for all," said Sari in a briefing session at the village today.
He was accompanied by two other headmen from neighbouring villages Kampung Pulau Kempas and Kampung Bukit Cheeding.
Friends of North Kuala Langat Peat Forest chairman Tonjoi Pipis, who is from Kampung Pulau Kempas, said the Orang Asli community there was very much involved with the rehabilitation efforts on the degraded areas razed in numerous bush fires.
"We even have a nursery of saplings to be used for tree planting activities.
"Instead of clearing the whole forest for development, isn't it better if we focus on rehabilitation and conservation efforts? This forest has a lot of potential including research and eco-tourism. We are also working hard in marketing the handicrafts made by the people here," he said.
Earlier, Global Environment Centre (GEC) director Faizal Parish said that the last bush fire was in 2017, and a huge area was razed during the drought in 2014, as reported by the Forestry Department.
"The villagers are keeping watch on the forest and to ensure that such incidents do not recur.
"We found that most of the fires originated from the area adjacent to the Elite Highway, which we suspect are from cigarette butts littered along the road.
"The 40 per cent degraded area as reported is already covered with (Mahang) trees planted with the collaboration of the community and the state government. Besides that, 60 per cent of the forest is still pristine and must be protected as it is home to wildlife, which include endangered species like Langat Red Fighting Fish and Selangor Pygmy Flying Squirrel," he said.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Prof Dr Ahmad Ismail said he hoped that Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari would be able to visit the site and meet the Orang Asli to get accurate information on the situation.
GEC and MNS, along with Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES), Grass Malaysia, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Sahabat Alam Activist Association (Kuasa) and Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) have formed the Coalition to Protect Selangor Forests to, among other things, address this issue.
GEC has recently launched a petition called “Help Save Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve: Home of Orang Asli & Biodiversity” at http://www.gec.org.my/index.cfm?&menuid=443
The Selangor Forestry Department had on Feb 5 placed a notice in major newspapers inviting stakeholders in the district to voice their objections to the proposal within 30 days.