Best of our wild blogs: 2-3 Aug 14

10-11 Aug: Traditional Wayang at Pulau Ubin
from wild shores of singapore

A Good Deal Not To Miss
from Colourful Clouds

Life History of the Long Brand Bush Brown
from Butterflies of Singapore

Night Walk At MacRitchie Nature Trail (01 Aug 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Watercock at Singapore Botanic Gardens
from Francis' Random Yaks, Articles & Photos

An eggshell in the garden
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Malaysia: Catchments not retaining water

christina chin The Star 3 Aug 14;

PETALING JAYA: Rampant land clearing for development and farming near buffer zones is putting a strain on the country’s water catchment areas and preventing our dams from filling up despite sporadic rain and cloud seeding efforts.

Forestry and environment experts here have cautioned that unless water catchment areas are gazetted and protected, water basins are in danger of rapidly drying up.

Peninsular Malaysia Forestry Department director-general Datuk Dr Abdul Rahman Abdul Rahim said forests function like “sponges to absorb water” but the ground could not retain water if there are disturbances to the hydrological cycle caused by development and farming activities in surrounding areas.

“The existing minimum 10m buffer zone surrounding water catchments is insufficient.

“Buffer zones should vary according to the size of the forests and water bodies,” he said, adding that de-gazetting of non-permanent forest reserves came under the state and local authorities’ jurisdiction.

“There are one million hectares of forests under state control which can be developed. As a technical department, we can only advise the state authorities not to (approve development plans) but the final decision is theirs,” he explained.

He said the current water woes were worsened by the El Nino phenomenon as (rain) clouds were not forming at water catchments because of the dry spell and wind direction.

Yesterday, the Sungai Se­­langor dam which supplies water to more than 60% of households in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putra­jaya dropped to 33.27% of its capacity – a record low.

During the last water rationing exercise in February and March, the dam level was 37%.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed said water catchments were not gazetted and thus, not protected.

Usually, only the forest upstream of the dam was gazetted and not the downstream parts (between the dam and the intake points), he said, citing the Batang Berjuntai development in downstream Sungai Selangor as an example.

“So, in the ungazetted areas we have plantations, dusun, villages, towns and industries. A watershed must be gazetted and have minimum human activities so that water quantity and quality are not compromised.”

A Selangor Land and Mines Department spokesman said the state valued its forests and was very concerned about the “health” of water catchment areas.

“Before any forest is de-gazetted for development, a state planning committee with representatives from all the technical departments will discuss every aspect, including the appropriate buffer zone size, in detail,” he said.

Fighting for our forests
christina chin The Star 3 Aug 14;

Forestry Department director-general Datuk Prof Dr Abd Rahman Abd Rahim speaks about the importance of protecting our forests and catchment areas to prevent our dams from drying up.

THERE can never be enough trees or forests for Datuk Prof Dr Abd Rahman Abd Rahim. The Forestry Department director-general, who likens the forests to his office, feels fortunate to be doing what he loves – planting and caring for trees.

Work visits to lush tropical forests and parks invigorate him and on his days off, the father-of-three returns with his wife for brisk walks.

Insisting that forestry is as much a science as it is an art, the 57-year-old Perak-born explains how nurturing a tree is an enriching experience that requires both skill and talent.

For Prof Dr Abd Rahman and his forestry team, managing 4.8million hectares of forest reserves comes with huge challenges.

Worried for his rangers who face black magic spells, blowpipe attacks and deadly threats from illegal logging syndicates, he is lobbying hard for them to be given guns.

He has also spoken out against the encroachment of water catchment areas and the degazetting of forest reserves for development projects and highways such as the controversial EKVE project.

> The proposal to de-gazette parts of the Ulu Langat, Gombak, Ampang and Bukit Sungai Puteh forest reserves totalling 106.65ha for the construction of the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE) has become a controversy. Why is your department allowing our forests to be de-gazetted for development?

Public perception is that we are just letting this happen but as a technical department, we don’t have the power to say no even if we fight till the last breath because of the National Land Code. We can only advise the federal or state governments (whoever owns the land). Like the public, we discourage de-gazetting forest reserves because the loss is too great. Don’t de-gazette just to avoid paying compensation to property owners or because building an alleviated highway is too costly. Cutting down forests should be the last and only resort.

And, if there is no other choice but to de-gazette, mitigation measures must be taken. Before building a highway, we have to ask ourselves if we really need it. Does it solve traffic congestion? No. We should be improving public transportation instead.

But highways aren’t the only threat to forests. Look at Iskandar Malaysia (in Johor) – roads and power pylons are needed but we say the same thing: let’s explore the alternatives to cutting trees.

> Why are our forests catching fire so easily?

We have three kinds of forests – dry inland, peat swamp and mangrove. Some 90% are dry inland forests which catch fire because of smokers and farmers. The El Nino dry season makes it worse. Although peat swamps only comprise 3% of our forests, it is the most dangerous.

Peat fires are the hardest to control because the fire burns underground. Farmers drain water from peat swamps to irrigate their crop and when a careless driver throws his cigarette stub, the dry peat swamp catches fire. That’s why all along the route to KLIA in Sepang, you see peat fires.

> What is the situation on illegal logging in the country?

My department only controls permanent forest reserves. Non-permanent forest reserves are either owned by the state or private individuals – we do not have a say in what they want to do with it as our role is only advisory. This is what the public does not understand. The peninsula has 5.8 million hectares of forests, of which 4.8 million hectares are permanent forest reserves. Less than one per cent of our permanent forest reserves were encroached by the orang asli and those living in the peripherals of the forests. Irresponsible development, greed and fires are what threaten our forests. We only remove mature trees from permanent forest reserves to prevent them from dying and even then, we make sure replanting is done immediately.

All logging activities in the permanent forest reserves are monitored closely – especially when timber pricing is good, to make sure that only what is allowed on the permit is cut.

By 2016, my target is to achieve 0% illegal logging but we need more funds to increase our enforcement personnel, vehicles and equipment.

> You want your men armed. Is there really a need?

Yes. Even Road Transport Depart­ment and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission officers have pistols but my guys only have their parang. We are requesting for pump guns for all our enforcement officers. They have faced blowpipe attacks and even black magic. They are the target of organised crime syndicates.

Being armed will give them confidence. At least my men can scare off the illegal loggers by firing warning shots into the air. Don’t worry, they are not going to be trigger happy and shoot at people.

> The Klang Valley has become the hub for illegal agarwood trading in peninsular Malaysia. Forests in Penang, Perak, Pahang and Johor were among the worst-hit states by agarwood thieves. Selangor was also not spared. Where is the enforcement?

On July 9, we raided a house in Padang Lalang, Seberang Prai, and arrested 13 Vietnamese for illegal possession of 5.2kg of agarwood. We also confiscated various equipment used to fell the trees. We received a tip-off that they were processing the agarwood there. We believe the arrest has crippled the syndicate behind the agarwood thefts in the country because the mastermind is likely based in Penang.

Syndicates from Vietnam and Cambodia have been travelling north to south to steal our agarwood. This also happens on state-owned land, not just in the permanent forest reserves. The Penang Botanic Gardens where there’s been a number of agarwood thefts, for instance, is state land.

> You have been in the forestry department for some three decades. What are you most proud of?

When I completed my master’s degree in forestry science in 1987, the future of forestry here became crystal clear. I had learnt how a computer could integrate volumes of data, maps and information, to assist in planning for our forests.

Analysis and simulation can be done in quick time to ensure that the best decisions are made when faced with questions like what is the most suitable tree to plant in our forests. I am proud that together with my (former) boss, we pioneered the use of personal computers in the field of forestry and set up computer divisions here.

When I did my doctorate in Scotland, Malaysia was still using programmes like Wordstar but I was already working on Excel and Word Pro over there. What computers could do was well beyond my expectations. When I returned, I insisted that my officers make full use of technology because it is an indispensable tool for foresters. Whoever goes out on field work must bring a laptop along. I am proud that my officers are tech-savvy.

> What is the biggest challenge in managing the country’s forests?

There has to be better co-operation between the federal and state governments. I am willing to work with both. For example, the federal government commits to an international environmental charter but the state does not implement it. If a state stops logging, what will it get? You want to conserve yet you need money. There must be a balance between policy and economic need. There is no one simple solution. Sincerity is important. I always invite the public and non-governmental organisations to work with us too.

> Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel recently called on all agencies to work together to combat illegal land clearing and occupation in Cameron Highlands, which had become increasingly widespread.

This is an issue of deforestation on Pahang state land, which is not under our control.

> What are your hopes for our forests?

Forests do not only mean timber. The tropical forest is so diverse and complex. It enriches me. I know we still need more land to build roads if we are to achieve developed nation status by year 2020 but before I retire in three years, I hope to see five million hectares of permanent forest reserves in the peninsula. This would require the states to give up their land bank. This is my mission.

Catchment areas need better protection
The Star 3 Aug 14;

PETALING JAYA: Adequate buffer zones and better catchment protection are needed to protect the viability of water catchment areas, especially surrounding dams.

International Islamic University Malaysia’s Faculty of Engineering Assoc Prof Dr Zaki Zainudin said many catchment areas were converted to plantations, leaving the top soil exposed.

“When it rains, the solids are transported downstream, resulting in teh tarik rivers,” he said.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed said water quality in rivers deteriorate during dry seasons as there is less water to dilute pollutants.

“The water quality can reach Class IV (irrigation water standard). Some intakes such as Bukit Tampoi (in Sungai Langat) had to be closed so many times due to high levels of ammoniacal nitrogen during the recent water crisis,” he said.

Selangor Youth and Sports, Infra­structure and Public Facilities Committee chairman Dr Ahmad Yunus Hairi said state water authorities have taken measures such as gazetting alternative water sources like former mining pools and lakes, as well as a 50m strip of land on both sides of the river in 2010 as “zones of protection” under Section 48 of the Selangor Water Management Authority Enactment 1999.

These protected zones cover 47,479.09ha of land surrounding 2,365.09ha of water body. For zones surrounding the state’s seven dams, there were an additional 50m of buffer to prevent activities that could harm or disturb the catchments.

In addition to this, there was a policy in place to ensure that developments surrounding river and ponds take into account their impact to the environment, he said.

“Existing ponds cannot be filled for development purposes but are maintained as storage for surface runoff,” he said, adding that new water resource protection regulations have also been passed.

Admitting that rapid development in river basins had reduced the amount of water infiltration or seepage into the ground (and onwards to rivers), he nonetheless said that the recent volume drop in the Batu, Klang Gates, Langat, Semenyih, Sungai Selangor, Sungai Tinggi and Tasik Subang dams was due to the hot and dry weather.

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Malaysia: Illegal land clearing in Camerons despite warning

Audrey Dermawan New Straits Times 3 Aug 14;

LAX ENFORCEMENT: More illegal land clearing sites for farming spotted in the vicinity of Kampung Raja, Cameron Highlands.

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: BARELY a month after Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel brought reporters to check on illegal land clearing site at the Blue Valley-Kampung Raja border, the culprits are back to their tricks.

This time, several new illegal land clearing sites — at least two of which are on a big scale — have been identified in the vicinity of Kampung Raja.

Farm operator Chong Chan Kong, 39, told the New Sunday Times that he saw thick smoke coming from the direction of one of the hills in Kampung Raja early on Friday. The smoke dissipated by late afternoon.

He estimated the site being cleared to be no less than 1.2ha.

“The lax enforcement has resulted in more new sites being illegally cleared.

“Those responsible are not afraid because the numerous complaints made previously have fallen on deaf ears.

“No arrests have been made.”

Chong said checks at another site, where clearing work was just kicking-off, showed that the culprits were not bothered by the “No Trespassing” signboard put up by the land office.

“We hope the authorities will go all out to put a stop to this rampant illegal land clearing works on the highland.

“We do not want anything untoward to happen in the near future.”

On Friday, Palanivel said the authorities received information that a large tract of forest at Gunung Yong Belar near Kampung Raja, was being illegally cleared for farming.

He said illegal land clearing had to be curbed immediately as this could have detrimental effects on the environment.

“We view this issue seriously and action must be taken immediately against the culprits to justice.”

Illegal land clearing activities were not only confined to the Blue Valley-Kampung Raja border, but were also taking place in other areas on the highlands as well.

Among them were Kuala Terla, Brinchang and 49 Mile.

Most of the illegal land clearing took place on state government land.

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Indonesia: Two arrested as more hotspots flare up in Riau

The Jakarta Post 2 Aug 14;

As more and more hotspots have been found in Riau, police moved to arrest those implicated in slash-and-burn practices.

Bukit Batu Police in Bengkalis regency arrested two people on suspicion of razing a forested area to clear it for a oil palm plantation.

Bukit Batu Police chief Comr. Sasli Rais, speaking on Friday, said the police had acted on a tip off.

“Residents feared that the suspects’ actions would trigger haze and the fire could spread due to the current drought,” Sasli said, as quoted by Antara news agency.

The two suspects were identified as Monang Sidabutar, a teacher at SMA 1 senior high school in Siak Kecil and Nikson Nainggolan, a farmer from Perjuangan, Sejangat village.

The size of the razed area was around one hectare (ha).

So far, the local police in Riau have arrested 189 suspects in relation to intentional land and forest fire allegations between January and July this year.

“The number of suspects might increase as police personnel are still on the lookout for other culprits,” Riau Police spokesperson Adj. Snr. Comr. Guntur Aryo Tejo noted.

The arrests came after it was reported that the number of hotspots had increased during Idul Fitri in Riau. Forest and land fires continue to occur in the province, affecting no less than 848 ha of land.

The Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) reported an increase in the number of hotspots in Riau forests on Friday compared to the previous day, which red zero after due to rainfall.

“The latest update from Modis Terra and Aqua satellites detected 95 hotspots spread across five districts or cities in Riau, of which 51 hotspots were in Rokan Hilir district,” Riau BPBD head Said Saqlul Amri remarked on Friday.

With 30 hotspots, Dumai city ranked second followed by Bengkalis district with 12.

The satellites also detected a hotspot each in Rokan Hulu and Siak districts.

According to the US NOAA 18 Satellite, which is operated in Singapore, only five hotspots were found on the same day, three of which were located in Rokan Hilir and two in Bengkalis.

The satellite detects when the air temperature is higher than 40 degrees Celsius, which is considered to be a forest fire.

However, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the number of hotspots could be higher because there were many areas that had not been accessed.

Sutopo said the alert status for the haze from forest and land fires was still under review by the Riau provincial administration.

The joint task force will continue to fight fires in the region various ways including weather modification.

Hundreds of personnel from the Indonesian Military (TNI), the Air Force and the police as well as from the Forestry Ministry and local BPBDs are also involved in the effort.

“But land clearing has been so intensive that the number of hotspots has increased,” Sutopo said, adding that BNPB head Syamsul Maarif had asked the Riau governor as well as local regents and mayors to intensify efforts to control forest and land fires in their respective regions throughout Idul Fitri.

“Preventive measure are more effective than fire fighting, especially on peatland,” he said.

Syamsul, according to Sutopo, had also instructed the MI-8 helicopter to fly over Pontianak, West Kalimantan, to douse fires.

So far this year, forest and land fires have destroyed 25 thousand ha of land in Riau, which has led to major losses, air pollution and haze.

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