ALOR SETAR: The little-known Ulu Muda forest reserve stretches from the Malaysian border with Thailand at Yala in the north to Baling in the north of Perak.
It’s about twice the size of Singapore and a paradise for nature and wildlife lovers.
More importantly, it’s a lifeline for Perlis, Kedah and Penang, supplying much of the water for all three.
It serves as a vital water catchment area to the Muda, Pedu and Ahning dams that supply most of the water to the three states.
The reserve is now facing a big threat. Rampant logging is taking place in the forest reserve.
While small bare patches of the forest could be seen by motorists using the Federal Road 157 travelling between Gulau and Weng, it does not seem severe enough for someone to bat an eyelid – not until one enters the logging sites and depots.
Just 9km from the Forest Ranger’s office in Gulau, one would have to cross Sungai Sok, where the water levels are only shin-high.
Forest roads measuring around 3m showed that many trees were cleared just to make way for heavy-duty vehicles plying the paths to transport logs out of the forest.
The Star managed to find at least five logging depots, with thousands of high-quality logs such as meranti, cengal and merbau lying around, waiting to be transported out to their processing destinations.
The logging depots discovered were about the size of 30 football fields.
It is believed that there are more similar depots deeper inside the forest.
Workers were also seen standing guard at makeshift tents of other entrances, which are believed to lead to the logging sites.
Some were also seen measuring and recording the types of the logs before they were transported out of the forest to the Forest Ranger’s office in Gulau for inspection before the lorries ferrying them headed to their respective destinations.
A two-hour observation in front of the office showed that some 100 logs ferried by 10 lorries were inspected.
The logging activities have definitely not gone down well with the villagers in the vicinity.
Wahad Ahmad, 48, who lives in Kampung Landai, said the once clean Sungai Sok was now very murky.
“The river has been filled with mud and sand. It’s worse when it rains.
“When I was a child, we used to swim and catch fish in this river.
“It’s impossible for my children to enjoy that right now,” said the odd-job worker.
A retiree who wished to be known only as Pak Man, said he would often see lorries going in and out of the logging areas.
“Yes, the river is much dirtier now but what can we do? These companies have the licence to log here,” he said.
Over in Kampung Belantik some 10km away, boatman Zulkifli Ibrahim, 45, was also disappointed when he spoke about the sedimentation of the river.
He said back in the days before the logging at the forest began, the water was so clear that some villagers would even drink from it and it was also the main water source for them.
The 2014 Auditor-General’s report said the state had approved 6,252ha of forest for logging and 4,612ha in 2013.
Kedah received RM30.1mil in forest premium in 2014 and RM10.8mil in 2013.
The Auditor-General’s Report from previous years showed that in 2012, the state government approved 8,542ha for logging, and received RM32.93mil in forest premium, while 12,909ha were approved in 2011 with a forest premium of RM74.92mil.
In 2010, 7,856.11ha yielded a forest premium of RM48.54mil while in 2009, 6093.68ha were approved with a forest premium of RM33.05mil.