Don’t degazette forest reserves, says environmentalist

Hum Gurung, regional project manager, Southeast Asia and Pacific Forest Governance of BirdLife International. (My Forest Watch pic.)

KUALA LUMPUR: An environmentalist hopes the government will reconsider degazetting any more forest reserves in the country.

Hum Gurung, from BirdLife International, said: “When we talk about the history of country management, I have never heard about forest reserve degazettement.

“There is an old convention which talks about changing the category of a certain protected area, for example changing category from a wildlife sanctuary, or a forest reserve, to a national park. But never to degazette. This is new to me.”

According to Hum, certain special conditions need to be met before an area can be recommended as a protected area or forest reserve.

“The government would have gone through all these processes before deciding that an area should be a protected area, because they want to preserve something beautiful or unique, or protect the biodiversity of an area.

“That is why you want to protect that area. Once you declare, you can change the category later, but not to degazette,” he said when met at a recent Malaysian Nature Society forum on degazettement of forest reserves in the country.

Hum, who is BirdLife International’s regional project manager for Southeast Asia and Pacific Forest Governance, was referring to the proposal to degazette 28.3ha of the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve in Gombak, Selangor, to make way for a housing development project.

Other instances where degazettement of forest reserve was done include 106.65ha of the Ampang Forest Reserve for the construction of the East Klang Valley Expressway, 30ha of the Sungai Puteh North and South Forest reserves for the Sungai Besi-Ulu Klang Highway project, and 3.4ha of the Bukit Cherakah Forest Reserve for the Damansara-Shah Alam Elevated Expressway project.

Hum said the failure to keep forest reserves intact would affect water resources.

“When there isn’t enough forest cover, erosion is bound to happen. So when it rains, the soil will be washed downstream, making the water unclean for consumption.

“The recent water supply disruption in the Klang Valley should serve as a reminder to the government that this is part of the reason why the forest is so important in contributing clean water resources,” he said.

Hum is currently based in Malaysia leading a team on a project called Strengthening Non-state Actor Involvement in Forest Governance in Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.

The aim of the project is to get at least 40% of locals on the ground, including indigenous people, to be involved in the governance of the forest.

Taman Amansiara built on a hill slope near the Bukit Lagong Forest Reverse in Gombak, Selangor.

Highlighting another point, Hum said Malaysia had an advantage in terms of its financial status.

“To gazette a national park, there are certain fulfilments to meet. Malaysia has all of these and enough funds to gazette national parks,” he said.

Drawing comparisons to his home country, Nepal, Hum said they had a lot of protected areas which were gazetted as national parks but due to financial constraints, these national parks could not be realised.

“That is why we call them ‘paper parks’, only on paper they are gazetted as national parks, but when you go there, you can see the buffaloes grazing.

“But Malaysia does not have a funding problem, no problem for it to gazette national parks,” he said.

The proposal to degazette Bukit Lagong for a housing project by the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS) has been objected to by residents who fear another landslide occurring due to its current location by a hillslope.

The Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) has also voiced its concerns, pointing out that the degazettement could reduce FRIM’s chances of achieving Unesco World Heritage Site (WHS) status, apart from opening the floodgates of demand for further degazettement of the forest reserve for development purposes.

The proposed area for degazettement is located outside of FRIM’s jurisdiction, some 3.5km from the research institute’s campus perimeters.

FRIM has been working towards attaining Unesco WHS recognition since 2014, and its nomination was accepted for the Tentative List of the Unesco WHS 41st World Heritage Committee meeting held in Krakow, Poland on July, 7, 2017.