Deforestation has to stop!

Forest are being cleared for various reasons

By Ravindran Raman Kutty

The Bukit Kledang illegal land clearing in Perak is really worrying and baffling. Ten hectares of land have been cleared without the approval or consent of the state authorities.
This reminds me of a photograph that I came across in a local daily that screamed: “Malaysia is balding quickly”.
According to 2013 reports quoting the findings of researchers from the US-based University of Maryland and Google Inc that developed a global forest map, Malaysia suffered the world's highest rate of forest loss between 2002 and 2012.
During that period, Malaysia was said to have lost 14.4% or about 47,278 sq km, of its year 2000 forest cover. The figures are shocking. Paraguay had the second-highest forest loss at 9.6%.
According to a forest-tracking tool developed by NASA, Malaysia saw a 115% jump in deforestation over three months from January to March 2013.
Our mangrove forests are facing a similar situation. The US-based World Resources Institute (WRI) reported that more than 25,810 ha of mangrove tracts (larger than the size of Kuala Lumpur) were destroyed during the 12-year period from 2001 to 2012, thus endangering coastal species and exposing humans to rising sea levels. The loss was equivalent to more than three times the global mangrove forest loss during the same period.
The WRI report also stated that Malaysia lost 4.6% of its mangroves during that period, with approximately 1,000 ha of mangroves being felled each year, peaking at 4,052 ha in 2009.
The cutting of our forests causes us to lose vegetation that releases moisture through their leaves. Moisture evaporates into the atmosphere and forms rain clouds that cause rainfall. Hence, when forests are cut down, there will be less rainfall in that area.
In 1998, Malaysia suffered its worst water shortage that was caused by a protracted dry spell in the Klang Valley and made worse by the El Nino phenomenon.
In 2014, Selangor was hit by a severe water crisis due to various factors, including poor rainfall at the water catchment areas.
The livelihood of the indigenous people is also under threat as some of the forests where these communities dwell have been logged more than seven times to the extent that there is nothing left for them.
For the Penans in Sarawak, the impact is particularly devastating as the destruction of their main source of livelihood is threatening their very means of survival.
The dense forests of Malaysia are rich with carbon and various species of flora and fauna. Although attempts have been made to replace the trees that are cut, the efforts have been futile as the newly planted trees cannot replace lost forests.
Tree plantations like rubber and oil palm cannot net out the loss of natural forests in terms of biodiversity, carbon storage or maintenance of ecosystem services.
The vast destruction of the mangroves especially in the west coast from Kedah southwards, although for agricultural purposes, is another cause for concern. Aquaculture is also another sector which kills the mangroves.
Malaysia has 551,333 ha of mangrove forests. Mangroves are the breeding ground and home for many species of marine life and animals such as the silver leaf monkey. Mangroves also protect the coastal areas from storm surges and tsunami waves.
Penang was saved from the 2004 tsunami by the mangroves that protected the island. But once these mangroves are destroyed, the situation may be different should another tsunami hit the island.
Sadly, not all mangrove forests in Malaysia are protected. Although large areas of mangrove forests have been gazetted as forest reserves and placed under the management and enforcement of the Forestry Department, some other significant and sizeable areas are still categorised as state land and privately-owned land. These unprotected areas are all earmarked for various development plans – and here lies the Malaysian challenge.
During large-scale logging, a vast amount of carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon is stored in the trees. This is a significant contributor to the climate change crisis that the world is facing.
The massive felling of trees destroys the chances of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The Malaysian Borneo landmass has the huge potential to mitigate climate change as trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. However, with the incessant logging, our rainforests do not have the time or opportunity to regenerate.
The East Coast floods in 2015 were probably aggravated by the widespread logging in Kelantan. Without the forest cover, water will rapidly flow into streams, heightening the risk of floods in cities, villages and agricultural sites.
Illegal logging must be stopped. Our government is seeking to transform the nation's forestry laws, together with Transparency International Malaysia, in order to cut down illegal logging activities. We hope that this will materialise soon.
The Sarawak government’s moratorium on temporarily ceasing the issuing of timber licences until illegal logging and other illicit activities are weeded out is most welcome.
There must be more state-of-the-art monitoring mechanisms to detect illegal logging activities as was done in the Amazons, the world’s greatest rainforests and most of which are located in Brazil. With the help of covert GPS surveillance of timber trucks, illegal logging in the Amazons was brought to a halt.
This method can also be used in Malaysia, especially in Sarawak, Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang which are blessed with abundant rainforests.
Putrajaya must act more firmly to tackle the issue of deforestation. We cannot be talking about environmental education without arresting the environmental degradation that is going on daily in the name of illegal logging and deforestation.
We must be tough and show the intruders that we mean business. “We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts,” so said William Hazlitt, an English writer (April 10, 1778-Sept 18, 1830).

Ravindran Raman Kutty is a Fellow to the Institute Of Public Relations Malaysia. He is an astute follower of what’s happening in Malaysia especially issues that matters to the common man.