Loggers must be given replacement forests or RM1 bil payout, says Kedah

A Sahabat Alam Malaysia file picture of the forests surrounding Pedu Dam, Kedah, in 2016. The Ulu Muda forests serve as a water catchment area not just for Kedah but also Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: The Kedah government today said it had no plans to expand logging activities in the state.

It was merely finding ways to avoid paying RM1 billion in compensation to licensed loggers after their concessions in permanent forest reserves were withdrawn.

The menteri besar’s office today said the state does not plan to open up more logging areas but merely wanted to allow these companies to harvest “production forests” instead as a replacement.

“If we don’t do this, the state government will have to face court action and demands to pay compensation to the logging companies.

“These replacement forests have to be a production forest, as defined and allowed by the Forestry Department under the law. These options will be carefully studied,” the statement read.

The Malaysia Timber Council (MTC) lists five types of permanent reserved forests: production, protected, research, education and amenity forests, as defined under the National Forestry Act 1984.

MTC said production forests must follow sustainable forest management practices outlined by the act. The government sets annual allowable cuts, where a set maximum number of hectares per year are allowed to be harvested.

Under the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020), the MTC reported that the peninsular allowance was 41,888ha/year, Sabah 50,000ha/year and Sarawak 155,000ha/year.

Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor had told reporters earlier that 40 concession holders were previously allowed to carry out logging before the ban was imposed.

However, former MB Mukhriz Mahathir has disputed the RM1 billion compensation claim saying the amount was not that huge.

“Where did this RM1 billion figure come from? During Pakatan Harapan’s time, as far as two weeks ago, there were no claims from logging concession owners for that amount.

“I had said during my exit speech that the new Kedah MB should not reopen logging concessions. Now, the MB seat is not even warm yet, and we are open for logging again?” he said on Facebook today.

On July 1 last year, Parliament was told that Kedah had gazetted 106,418ha of the Ulu Muda Forest as permanent reserve forests. Berita Harian reported that Kedah stood to lose close to RM200 million a year in revenue after parts of these forests were made inaccessible to loggers.

The Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBA) had said only 16% of the forests were marked as water catchment forests, while the status of the remaining 84% was not known.

It had called on the federal government to compensate the logging concessionaires and leave the forests untouched for future uninterrupted water supply.

The Malaysian Water Forum has claimed that deforestation and unsustainable logging, legal and illegal, threatened the forests’ role as a water catchment area, affecting the quality and volume of its water output.

Perlis, Kedah and Penang are dependent on Ulu Muda as their water catchment area, with 4.2 million people relying on the rivers in the forests for water supply.

Kedah boasts about 300,000ha of mostly virgin jungle, more than half of which forms Ulu Muda. For decades, the state had allowed between 3,000ha and 12,000ha a year for logging.

In 2011, it was reported that the PAS-led government approved 12,909ha for logging, raking in RM74.92 million in forest premiums that year. In 2019, the timber revenue had dwindled to RM18.36 million.

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