IPOH: Environmental activist group Sahabat Alam Activists Association (Kuasa) has called on the government, especially in the states, to be more serious in ensuring forested areas are protected.
Its advisor Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman said not much has been done to protect the forests, including its inhabitants and urged the government to be more committed and dedicated.
He said among the failures were the extinction of the Sumatran rhinoceros in the country and the alarming decline in population of the Malayan tiger.
"Similarly, the Forestry Department's goals and targets in 2020 of gazetting five million hectares of forested area as Permanent Forest Reserve (PFR) in Peninsular Malaysia has not been achieved.
"The forested area totals about 18.27 million hectares or 55% out of the country’s total land area in 2018 but statistics show that the forested area is decreasing from year to year," he said in a statement in conjunction with the International Forest Day on Saturday (April 3).
Meor Razak said one of the main factors for the decrease in forested areas was due to the abolition of either part or all of the PFR and other protected areas.
"Most of the repealed PFR areas have not been replaced by the state governments as required under Section 12 of the National Forestry Act.
"There are still vast areas of government-owned forested land in the country, therefore, the state governments cannot use that as an excuse to not replace the PFR," he said.
"Based on a case study by Kuasa, some PFR areas classified as virgin forest reserves with endemic species of flora and fauna that are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature have been abolished.
"On July 31 2014, the Perak government abolished the entire Chior Wildlife Reserve, Kuala Kangsar district, which was under the management of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia covering about 693ha.
"The Chior Wildlife Reserve was the first to be established in Malaysia. Being a wildlife corridor, it is especially crucial as the habitat and wildlife area of large mammals, specifically the Malayan elephants and tigers," he added.
He said other factors included the implementation of monoculture plantation development or forest plantation in PFR and land-use changes for quarrying, mining and agriculture.
"Kuasa regrets and strongly protests should any state governments still insist on continuing the proposed implementation of large-scale monoculture plantation development in the PFR areas.
"The functions and biodiversity of the forest will certainly be affected whenever a PFR area is converted to a monoculture plantation development," he said.
"Several state governments are clearly not complying with the rulings of the 70th National Land Council meeting in 2014, whereby they were urged to take the initiative to avoid or otherwise control the approval of mining and quarrying activities in PFR.
"Quarrying, mining, agriculture, and other land-use changes in the PFR areas substantially affects the forest’s biodiversity and functions and will affect the outcome of sustainable forest management, which is at the core of the national forest management plan," he added.
Meor Razak said he hopes that PFR areas that have been repealed will be replaced, with its latest information publicised.
"Kuasa also urged that public hearings must be held before making changes to the status of a PFR.
"Policies regarding the development of monoculture plantations need to be refined and should be implemented on idle or degraded government-owned land instead of PFRs," he said.
"All forested areas need to be categorised as Level One Environmentally Sensitive Areas to become state parks, wildlife reserves or national parks; stricter enforcement against illegal exploration in Central Forest Spine ecological network area; rigorous legal actions against encroachment and to reject proposals for developments involving upland areas to prevent natural disasters and ecological destruction.
"If all state governments are committed to ensuring that forested areas are protected, it is thereby appropriate to expedite such proposals, which are in line with national policies and goals related to sustainable forest management," he added.