Environmentalists and wildlife experts in Sabah have hailed the elevation of once-logged forest tract to 'fully protected' status.
KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman has never been known to be keen on conservationist. He was once a timber man and his leadership of the state has been marked by trade-offs and hard-to-fathom deals that have threatened the environment.
However, after a series of hiccups he took the uncommonly courageous decision to provide comprehensive government protection for Sabah’s last remaining virgin rainforest, earning praise from environmentalists and conservations.
Speaking at the end of the first State Assembly sitting last week, Musa announced the state government had decided to reclassify over 63,700 hectares of commercial forests bordering virgin jungle in Sabah as ‘protected’.
This is good news for Sabah’s unique wildlife that has come under threat by the all-powerful and ever-hungry ever hungry oil palm plantation sector.
The mysterious deaths of 13 pygmy elephants near a oil palm plantation in the east coast of the state, may have hit too close for comfort and some may see the state government’s action as a bid to fend off criticism about its less than stellar conservation record.
The announcement of the decision to upgrade the forest protection status of the 63,700 hectares comes on the heels of an announcement by state wildlife authorities that the elephants had indeed been poisoned and an investigation into the matter continues.
Environmentalists and wildlife experts have hailed the elevation of the status of the once-logged over tract to ‘fully protected’ as a “big deal” for wildlife population dispersal and would make buffer zones at key conservation areas more robust.
Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) and Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) said the elevation in status to Protection Forest Reserve Class I as passed by the Sabah Legislative Assembly sitting on Thursday will increase contiguity between the Maliau Basin, Imbak Canyon and Danum Valley conservation areas.
LEAP Executive Director Cynthia Ong welcomed the state government’s move and felt encouraged as forest contiguity is fundamental in tending towards ecosystem resilience.
“We are in a critical region, at a critical time. Political courage and leadership from government is essential.
“Such courage and leadership from all sectors – civil society, industry and communities, is equally important for us to make shifts to tip the balance towards deep sustainability for all.
“The elephant poisoning tragedy earlier this year was a rallying call, and we in the NGO community are ramping up our efforts and collaborating with government.
“It is of particular importance that the private sector plays its part,” she said.
FMU licensees warned
Ong said along with other NGOs and research organisations, LEAP had made a call to the various timber and oil palm plantations working in the elephant tragedy region to work towards gaining Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification, respectively.
“We wish to remind Forest Management Unit (FMU) licence holders, and both oil palm and timber plantation companies at the borders of the newly upgraded areas of their accountability.
“Every effort must be made to ensure there is no encroachment into these forest reserves by poachers and others who may have their own motives,” she added.
The upgraded forest reserves are Malua (33,969 ha), Mt Magdalena (6,665ha), Tambulanan (3,265 ha) and Sungai Tiagau (19,870 ha). The last three reserves had different names prior to the reclassification.
The State Assembly had passed an amendment to the Forests (Constitution of Forest Reserves and Amendment) Enactment 1984 to reclassify the four reserves, which the State Government described as having high conservation value and a move that will further protect biodiversity and wildlife.
Ong said the upgrading of the Malua Forest Reserve to Class I was particularly significant as the area is host to the Malua BioBank, the world’s largest tropical conservation bank that is rehabilitating a critical habitat for Orang Utan and other threatened species.
The Malua BioBank generates Biodiversity Conservation Certificates that are sold to restore and conserve the forest reserve on a sustainable basis.
BORA executive director Junaidi Payne said any commitment to conserve log-able forests is a good move.
Junaidi noted that the amendment also covered other aspects, including the addition of 6,429 ha of previously unprotected mangrove forests in Menumbok into the forest reserve system.
“This is welcome news as it will help sustain the fisheries of the Brunei Bay area up to Weston and Klias by protecting the fisheries’ natural nursery areas.
“Now it will be up to the other relevant authorities to ensure that levels of fish and prawn off-take are brought to sustainable levels,” Junaidi said.
Now that the area has been made off-limits, all that remains to be seen is if the decision will be enforced.
Past experience has shown government decisions can be fairly easily circumvented.