Indiscriminate logging puts industry in bad light

THE recent floods, which caught many unprepared, have sparked fresh discussions about logging.

Logging was blamed, as timber logs in rather big numbers appeared with the gushing floodwaters.

The other issue that rekindled the logging debate was the killing of a tiger in Gua Musang, Kelantan. Tiger conservation became associated with logging, and the subject took on a life of its own. Some of the statements made about the subject were also taken out of context.

The truth lies in between. First, few would disagree that timber is an important raw material for many applications in life. Housing stands out as one. For a while, concrete did take over as the material of choice. But now, in this era of sustainability, the world is revisiting timber as a preferred building material considering its lower global warming potential. Scientists have now come up with new ways to use timber even in high-rise buildings. I know that in Australia and the United States, timber is widely used in the construction of homes.

Timber is also widely used in making furniture. In Malaysia, rubberwood has to some extent replaced traditional timber in the furniture industry. In fact, rubberwood furniture is a big export earner for this country, bringing in more than RM10bil annually.

But timber still commands a robust demand globally, and the motivation to supply is the economic rationale behind the global timber business. The logical source is natural forests, but because of increasing environmental pressures coupled with the decline in natural forest areas as a result of decades of exploitation and development, we are now seeing the growth of forest plantations. This is where forest timber species are grown and managed as plantations.

In Malaysia, through soft loan initiatives provided by the government, forest plantations have taken off rather well. The first forest plantation projects located in Kelantan, Pahang and Selangor in Peninsular Malaysia and in Sarawak were due to mature in 2021. They are expected to yield 3.78 million cubic metres of logs.

Currently, the plantation programme is mainly focused on two species, rubberwood (Hevea brasiliensis) and Acacia mangium. Apparently, more than 80% of the forest plantations use rubber as the crop. Many believe there is still room for more.

One factor that drives global interest in forest plantations is the environmental complications arising from harvesting timber logs from natural forests.

As the recommended practice of selective sustainable logging still faces stiff challenges in execution, most companies still resort to the traditional indiscriminate logging practices.

It is not just the issue of indiscriminately chopping down all the trees, whether big or small, that has been the subject of criticism. It is also the way the harvested logs are taken out.

The roads built to bring in machinery and take the logged timber out by lorries are mostly constructed without due consideration to the environment. Soil erosion has been common, not to mention the resulting silting of nearby rivers. The repercussions would be more devastating if the logging was done in sensitive water catchment sites.

But the concern over indiscriminate logging is not new. Malaysia has in place all the necessary rules and regulations for sustainable selective logging, but enforcement is still weak.

Many are calling for change. Most developed economies have not only adopted the selective logging technique, but have also used more sophisticated drone technology to transport the logs out for processing. This shows change is not impossible.

It is time we embrace the more sustainable logging practices instead of indiscriminate cutting. Logging is thus not the real issue. The way logging is done is the problem.


Tan Sri Omar Centre for STI Policy

UCSI University

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