THE 100 Million Tree-Planting Campaign 2020-2025 for a greener Malaysia launched by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on Jan 5 is the right direction towards a future of sustainability for the country in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, and WWF-Malaysia applauds the government for it.
Forest restoration is one the initiatives identified in this campaign. Despite being challenging and expensive, forest restoration is immensely rewarding and fruitful, a fact which WWF-Malaysia can most certainly attest to. One need only look at Sabah to see the benefits of forest restoration.
Amid endless hectares of palm oil plantations in Lahad Datu in the northern part of the Ulu-Segama Malua Forest Reserve, there is a Class I Protection Forest Reserve that is small in size but huge in significance (pic).
Known today as Bukit Piton Forest Reserve, in the 1980s right up to 2007, the area, previously called North Ulu Segama (NUS), saw tremendous decline due to unsustainable logging practices and drought-induced forest fires that took place in 1983 and between 1997 and 1998. The result was its vulnerability for conversion to agricultural lands, not unlike the areas that surrounded it.
But NUS had one golden card to play. Being home to approximately 300 orang utan, its retention as a protected forest reserve was recognised as being critical to ensure the continuous survival of the orang utan population. As it was, the orang utan were already isolated by palm oil plantations to the north and east, and the Segama river to the south of NUS, which prevented them from moving about to forage for food and for breeding purposes.
With the decline to their habitat, the chances of their population’s survival was close to none.
In 2007, WWF-Malaysia, together with the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD), spearheaded the forest restoration programme for NUS, then classified as a Class II – Commercial Forest Reserve. It was reclassified by the Sabah government as a Class I – Protection Forest Reserve in 2012 and renamed as Bukit Piton.
The change in classification was a significant move as it meant that the forest was now protected by law from any form of land conversion, timber exploitation or extraction of forest products.
WWF-Malaysia’s collaborative reforestation efforts here, which began in 2007, involved the planting of fast-growing pioneer species of tress in the open and exposed areas. The trees included binuang (Octomeles sumatrana) and laran (Neolamarckia cadamba).
To support the orang utan’s feeding habits, fruit trees such as sengkuang (Dracontomelon dao), terap (Arthocarpus sp) and figs (Ficus sp) were also planted.
By November 2019,2, 400ha of the degraded forests were successfully restored with the planting of over 300,000 trees, which are now growing and maturing at the expected pace.
The real success of reforestation can only be measured when wildlife begins to derive benefits from the replanted trees. In 2011, after years of careful observation on the field, WWF-Malaysia’s Orangutan Conservation Team found that the primates had indeed began to use the replanted trees. Nests were found on the laran and bayur trees, and orang utan were seen eating on trees that had begun to fruit. Baby orang utan were also found in the area, a sure sign that the animals were recognising Bukit Piton as the home they once lost.
The success of the forest restoration efforts at Bukit Piton was a result of a vision quite similar to the 100 Million Tree-Planting Campaign. Its vibrant existence today is a reminder that forest restoration is not an impossible task if the relevant authorities and entities come together to make it happen.
DR ROBECCA JUMIN
Head of Conservation Sabah
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