KOTA KINABALU: An environment report by a non-governmental organisation - RimbaWatch - depicting the state of forests in Sabah as being unsustainable and on the verge of going under the 50% targeted forest cover is not accurate, says the state chief forest conservator.
Datuk Frederick Kugan said the report did not portray the actual scenario of forest management in Sabah.
"In line with the Sabah Forestry Policy 2018, the state government has committed itself to preserving a 50% forest cover and at this moment, we are still at 64% forest cover," he said in a statement.
He said this included over 3.8 million hectares (52%) gazetted forest reserve areas.
He said the report needs to be reevaluated and re-clarified.
Kugan said Sabah had also gazetted up to 1.9 million hectares (26%) as totally protected area (TPA) and it is hopeful to achieve a 2.2 million hectares or 30% of TPA by 2025.
"Starting 1997, the state government had taken smart measures by transforming conventional forest harvesting practices into sustainable forest management," he said.
This management method is being implemented by focusing on three main trusts that are environment, economy and social and this has changed the forestry management landscape into a more efficient, systematic and balanced initiative, he said.
Kugan said other strategies in the sustainable management initiative was by restoring forest stocks through the creation of forest farms to fill the timber demands of the future.
He said Sabah had also identified a small scarce forest reserve area measuring 400,00ha for this purpose, in line with the Forest Farm Development Action Plan (2022-2036).
He said this would reduce dependency on timber-based industries on local forest and timber resources.
Kugan said the setting up of these farms are not categorised as deforestation as it does not transform forest areas for other land uses.
He said as an alternative income generation means that Sabah had explored other initiatives that could support forest conservation via non-timber industries.
This included recreational activities in forests, Payment for Forest Ecosystem Services and carbon trading through the implementation of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+), he said.
Kugan said land usage still needed to continue in Sabah as there were numerous socio-economic developments that needed to be done.
"Of course, the developments would be done according to the state conservation plans outlined in the Sabah Maju Jaya development plan," he said.
He said information on forest management initiatives can be found at www.forest.sabah.gov.my.
In the RimbaWatch report, it mentioned that they first analysed deforestation based on an interpretation of Global Forest Watch’s tree cover loss data to estimate that, between 2017 and 2021, Malaysia deforested 349,244ha, with Sarawak and Pahang experiencing the highest rates of deforestation.
It said that the biggest driver of past deforestation that could be identified for this period was timber plantations, accounting for 41.6% of deforestation, followed by oil palm, which was responsible for only 15.5%.
It said that with reference to the 1,794,887ha of forest reserves which have been earmarked for deforestation for timber plantations, the Forest Plantation in Peninsular Malaysia, Licence for Planted Forest in Sarawak, and Industrial Tree Plantation in Sabah programmes must all be ended, in order to preserve a forest cover above 50%.
It suggested for areas remaining under these concessions to be restored as natural forests, where a selective and sustainable logging system could be implemented instead.