Seeing the forest for the trees

THE Shah Alam Community Forest Society (SACF) is pushing for a part of the Bukit Cherakah Forest Reserve (BCFR) to be gazetted as a community forest to preserve its ecological value and biodiversity.

The forest, which has been used by the public for recreation and educational purposes, is one of the few forests left in the Klang Valley.

The society has named the portion of the woods consisting of primary natural lowland dipterocarp forest as SACF.

SACF is known for its community trails, hiking activities and scenic views.

The society hopes to emulate the Kota Damansara Community Forest (KDCF) concept as it firmly believes that having a forest co-managed by the community and authorities can benefit nearby residents.

Occupying approximately 161.87ha, the forest is part of the wider BCFR (9, 642ha) that was originally constituted on May 21, 1909 under the Selangor Forest Enactment.

Located in Section U10 in Shah Alam, the forest is surrounded by Setia Alam, Alam Budiman, Bandar NusaRhu and Bukit Bandaraya housing developments.

Today, about 70% of SACF belongs to Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Selangor (PKNS) for future commercial development while the remaining land belonging to Selangor government is for burial grounds.

Community forest plan

The society’s pursuit in pushing for SACF to be turned into a community forest heightened after a proposed road cutting through the forest — to connect Section U13 and Section U10 — was revealed in the Shah Alam Local Draft Plan 2035.

Many protested against the move during an objection hearing at Wisma MBSA in April.

SACF Society founder and secretary Alicia Teoh said the society submitted a proposal to Shah Alam City Council (MBSA) during the hearing to turn the area into a community-run forest.

“When we mentioned an alternative plan to make SACF a community forest, the hearing committee panel seemed interested and said the proposal would be considered.

“We are merely giving city planners another perspective on how to use the forest and we

have identified endless potential, both economically and ecologically.

“There is certainly a better way of managing it than bulldozing the green area for development.

“The power is in the state government to protect whatever green that is left in Shah Alam, ” she said.

Teoh also highlighted the ecological, recreational and educational benefits of preserving SACF.

“Preserving the forest will prevent further fragmentation of Bukit Cherakah’s remaining forest.“It acts as climate change mitigation to prevent floods and soil erosion as well as protect wildlife that live in the forest, ” she added.

Endangered species like the tapir, white-handed gibbon and Sunda slow loris have been sighted based on a biodiversity survey done by the society.

“The forest also serves as a recreational outlet for nearby residents and a platform for researches and educational trips to be conducted in the area because of its biodiversity.“If we can protect the SACF and Bukit Cherakah forest, it will be the largest urban forest in Selangor and the first urban ecological corridor in Malaysia, ” she pointed out.

Teoh hopes that the forest can be used as a research hub and environmental interpretive centre.

“The forest has huge potential to be made into an ecotourism spot.

“Nature talks, art exhibitions and bird watching programmes can be held in the forest.

“Low-impact structures like a field study centre can be built to accommodate researchers and their field exploration into the forest, ” she said.

Ambiguous land status

The society learned in a recent study that the SACF forest had not been excised by the Selangor government.

The study, commissioned by the SACF Society with funding from the UN’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme, was led by University of Nottingham Malaysia School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences adjunct lecturer Dr Teckwyn Lim as well as a team of mapping, legal and forestry experts.

The team found that there were no reports of the forest land being degazetted in the Selangor State Government Gazette.

They gathered all publication of notification in the gazette from 1909 to 2020 and the excision of the area in question had not been made, hence it should still be considered a permanent forest reserve, Dr Lim said.

Following the discovery, the society submitted a letter dated Nov 11, 2020 and Feb 2, 2021 to the Selangor State Secretary and Selangor Forestry Department, requesting a meeting.

Both agencies have yet to reply.

Selangor local government, public transportation and new village development committee chairman Ng Sze Han, who chaired the hearing of the proposed road construction through the forest in April, said he would investigate the status of the land as the forestry department representative was absent then.

Another follow-up letter was sent to Ng’s office on May 3, requesting an update on the land status.

When contacted, Ng said it was not proper for him to comment on the decision of the hearing, as MBSA was still in the midst of finalising the outcome of the local plan.

Meanwhile, Selangor Forestry Department director Datuk Ahmad Fadzil Abdul Majid said the SACF area belonged to PKNS.

“The SACF society set up trails on private land.

“Prior to this, the society has urged the government to gazette the land as a permanent forest reserve, ” he said.

Asked about the absence of the excision notice in the Selangor State Government Gazette, Ahmad Fadzil said when Selangor executive council decides to degazette (the forest land), its status as a permanent forest reserve would be removed.

Teoh, however, said without an excision notice, SACF should remain a permanent forest reserve.

Currently, the entrance to the forest has been hoarded up due to the lockdown.

Benefits for community

The Kota Damansara forest success story is a motivating factor for the SACF society.

A collaborative forest management plan by the Selangor Forestry Department and Persatuan Rimba Komunity Kota Damansara (KDCF) has proven beneficial to stakeholders as well as conservation efforts of the 320ha Kota Damansara Forest Reserve.

KDCF honorary advisor Justine Vaz said their model was an example of how combined institutional willingness, mutual goodwill and shared value systems provided a strong foundation for urban forest conservation.

“Together, we are able to contribute to the preservation of the last remnant of lowland mixed dipterocarp forest in the Petaling district.

“Following the gazettement of the forest in 2010, we partnered with the forestry department in holding stakeholder workshops and focus group discussions.

“Through these we were able to outline a framework in which the local community would have a role in supporting the forestry department in safeguarding the forest and also play a role in public education and community engagement.

“These elements were subsequently included in a management plan for the forest reserve, ” she said.

She noted that sustainable forest trails played a key role in building community support for the protection of the forest in the early days.

“Today, KDCF continues to maintain this legacy of low impact forest trails that were built by community volunteers and Temuan Orang Asli team, which is managed by social enterprise MyChangkul.

“Now in its 10th year, KDCF has facilitated a number of community events, school visits and corporate social responsibility activities, as well as learning visits from community groups and even government agencies keen to learn from our system.

“We firmly believe that all of these offer a dynamic conservation model with the potential for replication throughout the country, ” she said.

Justine added that SACF was regarded by conservationists as an important remnant of lowland forest.

“In addition to providing a refuge for biodiversity, the forest also provides essential ecosystem services and plays a role in mitigating the impacts of global heating and climate crisis.

“Communities have a deep concern for forests in their areas and should be part of a long-term strategy to protect and co-manage them with the relevant authority.

“They bring considerable resources in the form of funding, time and skills, which are useful for engaging people in education and environmental protection.

“This also reduces the budgetary requirements on forestry departments for roles willingly played by local residents, ” she explained.

The community, she said, had voluntarily cared for the forest since before its gazettement and would continue to do so in the future.

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