Malaysia: Belum forest clearing shocks greenies, MB orders probe

Isabelle Lai The Star 18 Sep 11;

PETALING JAYA: Fresh forest clearing in the Belum-Temengor wildlife corridor has alarmed environmentalists who are demanding an immediate halt to development plans in the critical buffer zone and the Perak Government is moving in on the case.

It is learnt that some 74ha of state land is set to be cleared, believed to be for oil palm plantations, posing a serious threat to endangered wildlife such as the Asian elephant and Malayan tiger.

A check with the orang asli living in one of the nearby settlements confirmed that clearing began some two weeks ago.

Many of the residents were unhappy with the plan to clear the land as logging would pollute the river and worsen human-wildlife conflict.

“We already face animals such as tigers venturing into our settlement. If the land is cleared, it will become worse,” said one of them who declined to be named, adding that he did not know what the land clearing was for.

Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir has ordered an in-depth probe into the activities.

A visit by The Star on Wednesday confirmed that development activities were under way, beginning with the clearing and widening of an existing old logging road.

Recent heavy vehicle tyre marks ran several kilometres deep into the Sungai Mendelum forest area from the Gerik-Jeli highway. Many fresh tiger tracks were spotted near the road entrance, heading away from the forest and towards the highway.

The steep terrain, which could slope as much as 45 degrees, is on land owned by the state government and borders the Royal Belum State Park.

A letter viewed by The Star, stated that the logging company had sought permission from the Perak Forestry Department to clear the area so it could mark the tree boundary before logging began.

The letter also stated that the area belonged to the Perak State Agriculture Development Corporation (SADC). However, the corporation later said the land no longer belonged to it.

A source, who spoke to the contractor at the site, said the land was being cleared for an oil palm plantation.

The Central Forest Spine Master Plan for Ecological Linkages called for an immediate freeze on land alienation and development to preserve the wildlife corridor.

Part of the 130-million-year-old Belum-Temengor Forest Complex, the wildlife corridor, was identified as the second most important corridor to be established in the northern part of peninsular Malaysia. The area being cleared was also ranked as Environmentally-Sensitive Area 2 under the National Physical Plan.

Environment expert Dylan Jefri Ong condemned the clearing as the area was frequently used by animals to cross from the Royal Belum State Park to the Temengor Forest Reserve.

He said there would be inevitable wildlife-human conflict if an oil palm plantation was developed there and it would prove costly to the authorities.

“Elephants are bound to raid the plantations. Their actions will cost the Government a lot of money as trees have to be replanted each time it happens”, he said, pointing out that more costs would be incurred to install electric fencing to keep the animals out.

Forestry consultant Lim Teck Wyn, meanwhile, said the erection of electric fences would force elephants and other wildlife into other areas such as the orang asli settlements and these would be destroyed.

“Several studies that I've done in the area prove that it is too steep and highly unsuitable for agriculture,” he said.

The area currently being cleared is within the core area of the corridor and close to one of two sites proposed for the construction of wildlife crossings.

Belum forest is a protected and gazetted area, says Perak MB
The Star 18 Sep 11;

PETALING JAYA: Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir has ordered an in-depth probe into ongoing activities to clear some 74ha of land within the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex (BTFC) wildlife corridor.

“I will not tolerate any abuse. We are committed to protecting the environment, especially Hutan Belum because it is a protected and gazetted area,” the Perak Mentri Besar said in a statement yesterday, adding that the probe was to ensure all laws were adhered to.

The land clearing being carried out is supposedly to make way for an oil palm plantation, a move which environment and wildlife experts warn could be perilous for wildlife in the area.

The Perak State Agriculture Development Corporation (SADC) denied knowledge of any oil palm plantation development plan despite being named the land owner of that area.

Its chief executive officer Ahmad Rizal Abdul Rahman said the land no longer belonged to SADC as it was officially surrendered to the state before Hari Raya.

He said they had not prepared any development plans prior to receiving instructions to return the land, totalling some 123ha last year.

“The state decided to take it back to protect the Belum reserve,” he said.

Asked why the letter from the logging company named SADC as the owner, he said it was possible that the official records had not been updated.

“I'm definitely not aware of any development plans there. Besides, the area is hilly and has a lot of wildlife. It is unsuitable for agriculture,” he said.

However, Perak Forestry Department director Datuk Nik Mohd Shah Nik Mustafa said the state government had given permission for logging to be carried out to clear the area for further development.

He said the department had approved a contract to clear the area for logging purposes last month.

“That area is state land, so the development plans there are up to the state.

“Our forest management plan covers the protected forest areas only,” he said.

A check by The Star at the Perak Land and Mines Office's development unit showed there were no records received for applications to develop an oil palm plantation along the state land on either side of the Gerik-Jeli highway.

The check, conducted on Thursday, revealed no area had been gazetted for an oil palm plantation there either.

MB orders halt to Belum forest clearing pending probe
Isabelle Lai The Star 19 Sep 11;

PETALING JAYA: The Perak Mentri Besar has ordered an immediate halt to forest clearing activities in the Belum-Temengor wildlife corridor, which has alarmed environmentalists.

Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir said forest rangers would monitor the area to ensure that further development activities are stopped pending an investigation.

“Yes, I've ordered to stop (land clearing activities) until the probe is completed,” he said yesterday.

Dr Zambry said the in-depth probe would include investigations into the land's status and topography, when the state's endorsement was sought for land clearing as well as whether this encroached on Royal Belum State Park, which is gazetted and protected.

He was referring to the Sungai Mendelum area, some 74ha of state land within the critical wildlife corridor linking Royal Belum and the Temengor Forest Reserve that is also home to endangered wildlife like the Asian elephant and the Malayan Tiger.

The Star had reported that fresh forest clearing of an old logging road had begun in the area, to be soon followed by boundary marking and logging.

Mystery surrounds the purpose of the land clearing and its ownership, with the Perak State Agriculture Development Corporation being named as owner in a letter from the logging company.

However, its chief executive officer Ahmad Rizal Abdul Rahman had said that the land was surrendered back to the state earlier this year.

Perak Forestry Department director Datuk Nik Mohd Shah Nik Mustafa confirmed receiving orders to halt further clearing of the logging road.

“We have told the contractor to stop his activities.

“We only gave permission to prepare the boundary and have not yet issued a logging licence,” he said.

Although environmental and wildlife groups have welcomed Dr Zambry's “swift intervention”, they insist on a permanent stop to the activities, pointing out that further clearing of land would only escalate illegal hunting and worsen human-wildlife conflict.

They are lobbying for the state land forests along the Gerik-Jeli highway to be gazetted as part of Royal Belum or a forest reserve to ensure the wildlife's long-term survival.

WWF-Malaysia executive director and chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said checks revealed that the logging road was only an hour away by foot from Sungai Ruok, a fish sanctuary and waterfall in the Royal Belum forest.

“Land clearing activities within the Mendelum area will lead to increased sedimentation of Sungai Ruok and the Temengor lake,” he warned, adding that this would then affect eco-tourism and aquaculture activities.

Dr Sharma said any clearing in the wildlife corridor, part of the 130-million-year-old Belum-Temengor Forest Complex, went against the Central Forest Spine Master Plan, a Federal Government-driven plan to re-establish and maintain linkages between the most important forests in peninsular Malaysia.

In condemning the clearing activities, Malaysian Nature Society conservation head Yeap Chin Aik called for the probe's findings to be made public.

He said such land conversions would impact the area's eco-tourism potential, expected to be an important income generator for Perak.

Traffic Southeast Asia senior programme officer Kanitha Krishnasamy called for penalties against relevant parties should the probe find the clearing to be unlawful.

‘Step up Belum enforcement’
Isabelle Lai The Star 20 Sep 11;

PETALING JAYA: Intensified enforcement is needed to prevent poachers from encroaching into the Royal Belum State Park, said wildlife protection groups.

This is necessary following the clearing of a logging road in the major wildlife corridor.

The groups called for coordinated patrols to be heightened.

WWF-Malaysia executive director and chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said the logging road in the Sungai Mendelum area was easily accessible from the Gerik-Jeli highway.

He said the organisation had previously raised the alarm on poaching snares discovered in state land forests in the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex (BTFC) a month ago.

“The wire snares were camouflaged so well that a team assistant’s foot got caught,” he said in a statement yesterday, adding that a camera-trap placed in the area had captured a photo of possible poachers.

Another camera-trap had captured a photo of a Malayan sun bear, which was missing one foot.

The injury was consistent with an animal who lost a limb while trying to free itself from a snare, he said.

The field team also heard three gunshots from a distance while they were in the area.

Malaysian Nature Society president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed said illegal hunting and poaching were rampant in the area.

He said gazetting the entire BTFC was the only way to “truly protect” the area from illegal clearing and wildlife poaching.

“We should protect our natural heritage,” said Prof Maketab.

Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir earlier ordered a stop to all alleged land clearing activities in the Sungai Mendelum area pending a probe into the matter.

Environmentalists have called for a permanent halt to development plans as the area is frequently used by wildlife to cross from Royal Belum to the Temengor Forest Reserve.

Be reasonable with demands to gazette forests, says MB
The Star 20 Sep 11;

IPOH: Environmental and wildlife groups should be more objective when demanding that forested areas in the state be gazetted as non-logging areas, said Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir.

He said despite the state government having gazetted an area about five times the size of Singapore in Royal Belum as a state park, such groups were demanding more.

“Are they asking for the whole of Perak to be gazetted? After the Royal Belum, they now want us to gazette the whole of Temengor Forest Reserve.

“Later, they may also request forested areas in Pangkor to be gazetted.

“Let us be objective. Logging cannot be stopped completely because timber is one of the major industries which generate revenue for the state,” he told reporters after receiving a courtesy call from Japanese ambassador to Malaysia Shigeru Nakamura at his office here yesterday.

Dr Zambry was commenting on calls by such groups for forests along the Gerik-Jeli highway to be gazetted as part of the Royal Belum or a forest reserve to ensure the long-term survival of wildlife.

He said economic progress would be hindered if the state government were to fulfil all their demands.

Dr Zambry said Perak was among the few states that had a sustainable forest management concept.

“While allowing logging activities, we are also serious about protecting the state’s rainforests,” he stressed.

On the forest clearing activities in the Belum-Temengor wildlife corridor, Dr Zambry said he would wait for an in-depth probe to be completed first.

”We also want to know the actual situation and if the report is accurate,” he said.

Strong case for Lower Belum and Temengor conservation
The Star Says 21 Sep 11;

PERAK is extremely proud of the fact that it had in 2003 set aside 117,500ha of forest north of the East-West Highway as the Royal Belum State Park.

However, to the dismay of conservationists, the park excluded forests south of the highway, the Lower Belum and Temengor Forest Reserves, which both remain as “production forest reserve” destined for logging.

Also left out is the 1,820m width of state land on either side of the East-West Highway.

Plans to develop this state land are many.

They range from commercial crops and vegetable agriculture to orang asli farming schemes and construction of university campuses and research centres.

Scientists say leaving the forest reserves and state land unprotected is a mistake for they are important wild habitats too.

Royal Belum is just over a quarter of the 4,343sq km that make up Taman Negara and, on its own, is not sufficient for the survival of large mammals such as the elephant, rhinoceros and tiger.

It needs to be backed up by Lower Belum and Temengor.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) even wants the adjacent Gerik and Lepang Nenering Forest Reserves to be added to the state park.

Collectively, these will create a sprawling, contiguous wild sanctuary.

Without the adjoining forests, Royal Belum is all but an island of wilderness in a sea of logged and farmed areas.

The East-West Highway has already sliced the wild area into two and obstructed animal movements. Wildlife migrating between Belum and Temengor have ended up as road kill.

And with increased human activity comes the opening of new roads which will give poachers easy access to wild areas. More and more snares and poachers' camps are being discovered in Belum-Temengor.

In the National Physical Plan, the whole of Hulu Perak is marked as a Rank 1 Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA), a ranking that disallows development, agriculture or logging.

This last large tract of forest in Perak is a final stronghold for wildlife.

It shelters 14 threatened mammals and an array of unique plants and animals. Internationally, Belum-Temengor is identified as a Tiger Conservation Landscape it is crucial for the long-term survival of the big cat.

The site has one of the world's greatest concentrations of hornbills 10 species are found here and the rare phenomenon of plain-pouched hornbills gathering by the thousands.

Temengor must not be seen only for its timber and land worth.

This is a mistake: the Malaysian Nature Society had a few years ago estimated that timber yields amount to only between RM58mil and RM250mil annually, whereas the other products and ecological services which the forest provides such as water supply, tourism, non-timber forest products, carbon sink, pharmaceuticals, flood control, fisheries and electricity generation are worth some RM1bil to RM1.2bil.

Keeping Belum-Temengor intact, therefore, seems to make sense.