PETALING JAYA: News about the Kedah government’s decision to put an end to logging activities in the Ulu Muda forest comes as music to the ears of those who have been fighting to preserve it.
One of them is Hymeir Kamaruddin, who operates the Ulu Muda Field Research Centre located within the lush rainforest.
“I’m glad that it didn’t take too much convincing by the NGOs and other concerned parties for the state and federal governments to do the right thing and stop the destruction of this important water catchment forest and an area of high biodiversity,” he said.
Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Xavier Jayakumar recently disclosed that Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir had told him the state was revoking logging permits for the forest and suspending the issuance of new ones.
The move is apparently aimed at preventing the pollution of water catchment areas.
Hymeir told FMT he hoped the protection would not be for just the Muda lake catchment but also for the Ahning and Pedu lake catchments. He said all three were important for the supply of water for irrigation.
He urged the government to gazette the 163,000ha area as a state or national park, saying this would facilitate its management as an important resource.
Twice the size of Singapore, the Ulu Muda forest serves as an essential catchment area for northern Malaysia. It also helps prevent flooding in the plains of Kedah, Perak and Penang.
Kedah, however, needs the RM40 million in forest premiums it derives from the issuance of logging permits. Penang, which gets 80% of its water supply from Sungai Muda, has repeatedly called on the federal government to compensate Kedah for protecting the forest.
Andrew Sebastian, the CEO and co-founder of the Ecotourism & Conservation Society Malaysia, also hailed the Kedah move.
He expressed hope that any decision to gazette protection of the forest would cover the entire river basin of Ulu Muda and would be accompanied by an enhancement of the state’s enforcement arm.
“It is our hope that campaigns to make people aware of the importance of protecting water catchments will be carried out as well,” he said.
He suggested that the state hold discussions on improving the ecotourism products of Ulu Muda and showcase the area to the world as a new ecotourism spot.
Ulu Muda is the largest natural habitat for wildlife and indigenous plants in the northern part of the country. Animals that live there include the rare clouded leopard, Asian elephant, Malayan tapir, Malayan Sun Bear and 10 species of hornbills.
The forest reserve is the largest carbon sink in the region, with millions of plants absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the air daily.
Logging in Ulu Muda has been going on for many years, with helicopter logging at the forest reserve first proposed in 2002 by the state government, which was then controlled by Barisan Nasional.
The proposal provoked much controversy, resulting in the birth of a loose coalition of NGOs called Friends of Ulu Muda.
Despite claims by proponents that the heli-logging project would be environmentally friendly, it was rejected in March 2003 following a detailed environmental impact assessment. Two months later, the federal government decided to ban logging at Ulu Muda, and Putrajaya said Kedah would be compensated for the loss of revenue.
However, logging in Ulu Muda resumed after PAS came to power in the state in 2008. It has continued ever since, with politicians in power saying they need to honour the licences that have been given out.