Why degazette forest reserve, ask NGOs

PETALING JAYA: Environmental groups are disappointed with the Terengganu state government’s decision to degazette the Belara Forest Reserve, said to make way for plantations.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Terengganu chairperson Wong Chee Ho has called on the government to provide justification behind the move for the forest reserve, which is home to a variety of forest birds including the great hornbills, classified as “vulnerable” under the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, and families of dusky langurs, classified as “near threatened”.

“MNS Terengganu would like to hear from the state government of Terengganu, what possible justification could there be to quietly degazette most of the Belara Forest Reserve?” asked Wong.

The Belara Forest Reserve green lung sits in the district of Kuala Nerus and covers 4,588ha, but with the degazettement, most of the land will no longer be under any protection.

Attempts by The Star to get a response from Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar were unsuccessful.

Ahmad Samsuri is also chairman of the planning, finance, investment, land and natural resources committee in the state executive council.

The forest is surrounded by plantations and old growth orchards tended to by villagers, producing a wide variety of valuable fruits, on which the locals rely for a strong economic foundation.

“MNS Terengganu hopes that the state will look seriously at the unjustifiable degazettement of the Belara Forest Reserve and put an end to the permanent loss of our biodiversity, ” said Wong.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia president Meenakshi Raman said the degazettement was totally unacceptable and contrary to previous statements by the Federal Government to not allow further conversions of natural forests for plantations.

“The plans of the Terengganu government in this regard undermines the Federal Government’s commitments under existing international treaties such as the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Under these international agreements, Malaysia has committed to maintaining at least 50% of its forest cover overall of the country for the purpose of protecting biodiversity and maintaining carbon sinks.

“The actions of the Terengganu government will undermine the ability of the Federal Government to implement its legal international commitments and put the country in a very bad light, ” she said.

Terengganu, Meenakshi said, should seek the assistance of the Federal Government for funding to keep its forests intact and to help pay for the ecosystem services that forests provide.

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