THE last remaining portion of the Bikam Forest Reserve in the Batang Padang district that measures about 401.43ha have been excised for oil palm plantation, claimed Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM).
SAM field work officer Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman said two months ago, he observed land clearing and logging activities being carried out at the area.
The trees were logged, drains were dug and lines were made on the ground, similar to those at conventional oil palm plantations.
“This is a very grave matter because the excision goes against the Federal Government’s 2008 ruling that forest reserves are not to be converted into oil palm plantations,” he said in a press conference in Batang Padang recently.
Meor Razak said the act of excising the forest reserve also went against the National Forest Policy 1978 (Revised 1992) and contradicted the Batang Padang Local Plan 2020 which had stated that the forest reserve would remain as such.
The forest reserve was a very large area gazetted in 1909 but throughout the years it had been excised and now even the last portion would disappear, he added.
According to studies by Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), the critically endangered Keruing Paya (Dipterocarpus coriaceus) is only found in the Bikam Forest Reserve, together with two other vulnerable species, the Merawan Kelabu (Hopea glaucescens) and Mata Kucing Beludu (Hopea myrtifolia).
“Unfortunately these precious species may be lost forever due to land clearing,” he said, adding that locals had also reported seeing a black panther from the forest reserve, roaming nearby a cemetery.
Meor Razak said SAM was appealing to the state government to re-gazette the area and avoid excising any forest reserve in the future.
SAM was also prepared to conduct replanting of trees at the forest reserve for free if the state government would agree to the re-gazetting of the entire area including the harvested areas.
At a press conference after his weekly meet-the-people session on Tuesday, Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir said the state government could not gazette or re-gazette a forest reserve and the proposal had to come from the Forestry Department.
Dr Zambry said only after the department put forward its proposal, could the state executive council decide on further action.
When asked to comment on appeals by several environmental non-governmental organisations for the state government to re-gazette the remainder of the Bikam Forest Reserve near Bidor to a permanent forest reserve, Dr Zambry said it was not fair for him to respond over the issue as he did not have sufficient details with him.
“The state government cannot simply give instructions as we don’t know which areas need to be gazetted or re-gazetted,” he said.