Move Bukit Lagong project to area with acute housing need, says environmentalist

A view of the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve in Gombak.

PETALING JAYA: Opposition to the Selangor State Development Corporation’s (PKNS) planned housing project within the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve continues, with an environmentalist and two NGOs warning of the problems it will create.

Environmentalist Anthony Tan suggested that the project be shifted to a more suitable place in some other part of the state where the housing need was more acute.

Tan, the former executive director of the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (CETDEM), told FMT although by law an existing forest reserve land, once excised, needed to be replaced with another forest reserve land elsewhere, the exercise did not make any sense.

It was reported that Selangor Environment, Green Technology and Consumer Affairs Committee chairman Hee Loy Sian had said the proposed degazettement area was only less than 1% of the total forest reserve area.

He was quoted as saying: “The entire Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve is 3,624.1ha. The area proposed for degazetting at the fringe of the forest reserve has no waterfalls and is not within the Orang Asli village.”

Hee said a replacement forest reserve in Broga, Semenyih, would be gazetted as a forest reserve instead.

“How far is Semenyih (from Gombak)? Is the state government willing to pay the residents petrol money to go to the new forest reserve in Semenyih?

“It may be a ridiculous question, but if I’m already staying next to a forest reserve and I can walk there and go for my trekking activities, why would I want to pay RM15 to go to the replacement forest reserve?

“On my way there I pollute the air with my carbon emission, and find that that new place may not be fit for trekking? So what am I going to do? Start walking at construction sites?” Tan asked.

Tan also asked whether the proposed replacement forest reserve land was within a water catchment area?

“Because if it is already within a water catchment area, it should have been made a forest reserve already,” he said.

Tan, who is currently pursuing his masters in sustainable development management, also asked whether the Selangor state government had determined if the value of the replacement forest reserve land (Broga, Semenyih) was equivalent to the current plot in Bukit Lagong (Gombak).

“Has the state government determined what kind of ecosystem services Bukit Lagong has? Ecosystem services are values placed on a forest reserve, usually it is mainly the trees. But has the government determined the other uses of the forest reserve, such as water catchment area and biodiversity?” Tan asked.

He also made reference to the upcoming Raptor Watch to be held in March. The Raptor Watch is an annual event founded and organised by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) at the forest reserve of Tanjung Tuan, Alor Gajah, Melaka.

Tan warned that no birds would want to stop over in the Malaysian forest if the trees were all cleared out.

“When you clear the trees, where do you think the birds will stop over when they pass Malaysia? They will have no place to land. For example if this continues for the next five years, birds will no longer be flying over the Malaysian forests. What raptors will you have to watch?” he asked.

In terms of climate change, Tan said the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve served as a means of keeping the temperature down.

“An example would be FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia). When the first forest came about in the area, people didn’t need to use air-conditioning there.

“Then it got developed and everyone started using air-conditioning. If you are cutting down the forest, you are removing cool air coming from the forest flowing into the existing housing areas. The temperature is going to increase. That is one aspect that many planners didn’t look at,” Tan added.

Meanwhile, Eco-tourism and Conservation Society Malaysia (Ecomy) chief executive officer Andrew Sebastian said it was disappointing to note the Selangor state’s “consistent” disregard of the environment and people who wanted to enjoy and save the forest.

“The state government has a lot to answer to its voters. This is something that cannot be justified.

“The Selangor state government had previously made it clear that it stopped all forms of logging when it took over the administration of the state.

“It seems to be going back on its promise to do better than the former Barisan Nasional (BN) administration. There should be a permanent ban on logging in Selangor,” said Andrew.

Echoing Tan and Andrew’s sentiments, Leela Panikkar, director of Treat Every Environment Special, or TrEES, said , over the past five years, a number of infrastructure projects had sliced into Selangor’s forest reserves.

According to Leela, Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) Rank 1 areas within the Selangor State Park have been, and continue to be, affected.

She reminded that ESA Rank 1 area management should follow guidelines that included the disallowing of development, agriculture and logging except for low impact nature tourism, research and education.

“This was not followed in a number of infrastructure projects deemed to be of higher importance by the Federal and Selangor state governments.

“Infrastructure projects play a significant role in habitat and biodiversity loss. Fragmentation of forests affects wildlife movement and ecosystem services. Opening forest reserves for development provides easy access leading to increased encroachment and poaching issues.

“Settlements bordering these developments continually worry about flash floods, landslides and mudflows. Water supplies from streams flowing in affected forests become silted, compromising residents’ access to potable water,” she said.

Leela added that the proposed area for degazettement played an important role as a forest corridor connecting Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve to the Templer and Kanching Recreational Forests, as well as the Serendah Forest Reserve which form part of the Selangor State Park.

“The overall biodiversity of Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve will deteriorate if these linkages are lost,” she said.