Hills ‘raped’ at an alarming rate

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Unsustainable land clearing is continuing on a staggering scale here, with pristine virgin jungle the size of numerous football fields chopped down to make way for agriculture conversion.

A large portion of the land clearing is taking place away from the public eye, as excavators and tractors are kept busy deep in the heart of the jungle, a good hour’s drive from the main road.

The bulk of the clearing at Pos Terisu spans at least four hills and valleys, the fresh red earth an ugly scar on the remaining green areas.

Some no longer resemble hills as deep shelves have been cut into the land which is flattened so that farmers can start planting vegetables.

A check by The Star showed workers operating the machines at weekends, which is prohibited.

Erosion has affected many of the streams, with the water flowing sluggishly over silt-clogged channels into the rivers.

The clearing is done in areas with very steep slopes, posing a huge danger of landslides when it rains. The road leading to the areas is riddled with huge potholes while one section has partially crumbled.

Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands president R. Ramakrishnan said the areas in the latest spate of clearing, which began less than a month ago, spanned over 40ha.

He said he had made two or three visits to the areas and observed the rate of clearing had accelerated during the elections.

“The Land Office staff was seconded to the Election Commission. This left the culprits free to do whatever they wanted, including bringing in prohibited heavy machinery.

“The rapid destruction has been stunning,” he said, adding that as many as three excavators and 20 tractors had been spotted in one area.

He pointed to a cleared area on both sides of the Ulu Telom river, which supplies water to the Ulu Jelai hydroelectric dam.

Some of the felled trees had rolled down the sides of the river, while its banks were mostly just slopes of red earth.

He warned that the Ulu Jelai dam would suffer the same fate as the Sultan Abu Bakar dam in Habu if the clearing was not halted immediately.

“The Sultan Abu Bakar dam suffered from uncontrolled land clearing. Massive soil erosion happened and its turbines were affected, so it couldn’t function effectively,” he said.

He noted that clearing on such a huge scale was illegal and wondered why the authorities had not acted to stop it.

The Star reported in December that continued land clearing over the past decade had caused serious damage to the iconic tourism and agriculture destination, including water pollution due to improper sewage disposal, pesticide run-off and soil erosion.

Ramakrishnan said that his organisation had been highlighting environmental problems in Cameron Highlands for the past 13 years without getting any concrete solutions.

“This is happening due to influential people who are backing the culprits. It is the unholy trinity of inept politicians, (allegedly) corrupt officials and greedy farmers,” he said.

“If Cameron Highlands is to be saved, there must be intervention from the very top at the federal level.”