PETALING JAYA: Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari has come under fire for defending the proposed degazetting of the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve.
Environmental activist Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil said his attempt to explain the move was lame and anthropologist Alberto Gomes of Australia’s La Trobe University said he displayed ignorance of what forests mean to the Orang Asli.
Amiruddin recently said the Selangor Forestry Department had made the proposal because 40% of the area was no longer virgin forest and it wanted to prevent open burning in forest areas.
He rejected allegations that the degazetting would affect Orang Asli settlements, saying the state had already relocated them from the forest reserve.
However, he also said the proposal was in its early stage and could be reviewed.
Shariffa Sabrina, who heads the environmental group Peka Malaysia, told FMT she saw no sense in degazetting the reserve just because 40% of it was no longer virgin forest. The right thing to do, she added, would be to plant more trees there.
“Why can’t we keep this green lung, make it lusher and keep it for the next generation?”
She connected the move to economic interests and greed, saying Selangor was already well developed.
“How much more development do we need?” she said.
“Selangor’s forests are shrinking fast and the last forest reserve is in Kuala Langat.
“The whole world is talking about climate change and here we are continuing to destroy our green lungs. Why can’t our leaders be trusted anymore? Are they only interested in creating more projects and development so they can make quick money?”
Gomes said Amirudin’s dismissal of Orang Asli objections to the degazetting as “just sentiments” hinted at a fundamental difference between the aboriginal community’s perception of forests and the way bureaucrats and capitalists would typically view them.
He likened the Orang Asli relationship with forests to the bond between parents and children since forests are their providers.
“Hence, to the Orang Asli, deforestation is tantamount to killing one’s parents,” he told FMT.
He urged the authorities to take heed of the concerns of the Orang Asli, saying their struggle for the maintenance of forests was for the benefit of humanity at large.
“At a time of looming climate catastrophe, we ought to adhere to Orang Asli sentiments in defending forests, which play a significant role in carbon sequestration,” he said.
“I sincerely hope that the authorities will listen to the concerns of the Orang Asli and not be enticed by the prospects of short-term economic gain at the expense of long-term ecological benefit.”