Curse of a wet La Nina

Uphill task: Workers taking jungle tree seedlings for replanting.

ALOR SETAR: Millions of jungle tree seedlings to replace those felled by loggers cannot be planted – no thanks to incessant rain from a wet La Nina year that has made the hilly logging trails too slick with mud to be used safely.

“The impact from the delay would be felt a few decades later as precious jungle trees like meranti need tens of years to mature,” said Kedah Timber Association president Amin Mokhtar.

“We haven’t seen a single dry spell, not even during this year’s Chinese New Year season when it would usually be hot and dry. In the hilly jungles, it has been raining almost every day since January in Kedah,” he said.

While licensed loggers had to forgo as much as 70% of their annual allowable cut because it was too wet to fell timber, Amin said more worrying was the backlog in replanting.

“As licensed loggers who practise sustainable logging, replanting is a big task. We have to show audited replanting work as one of our sustainability efforts so that our logs will be acceptable to developed countries such as the European Union, Japan and so on,” he said.Under the tree-tagging system, a hectare of logging compartment must be replanted with about 30 saplings after each completed logging to fulfil licence requirements.

“The current annual allowable cut for Kedah is 4,200ha. That is 126,000 saplings to be replanted,” he said.

However, there are another 3,500ha of illegally logged jungles in Kedah, which the Forestry Department has to replant with 660 jungle tree seedlings per hectare.

“That is another 2.31 million seedlings. But in the jungle, even a steady drizzle is enough to make logging trails impassable. It then takes days of dry weather for the trails to be usable again,” said Amin.

Licensed loggers, he pointed out, have to observe many rules to ensure jungle resources remain viable in Malaysia.

Trees that produce food for wildlife must never be felled.

Allowed trees are tagged and verified by the authorities before felling, and more loggers are now using a special crane called a log-fisher to pull out felled trees without needless jungle clearing.

Malaysian timber exports rank third in 2020 despite the Covid-19 pandemic, raking in RM22.02bil, after palm oil and rubber.

The trade war between the United States and China, followed by the Ukraine-Russia war, offer big opportunities for Malaysian timber but Amin said the La Nina was spoiling their prospects.

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