By Raveen Jeyakumar
Natural Resources Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said recently that much work needs to be done for biodiversity conservation.
This is indeed the case, given the serious weaknesses in the country’s forest management system
Several groups like Parti Sosialis Malaysia and Jaringan Selamatkan Hutan Simpan Kledang Saiong (Save the Kledang Saiong Forest Reserve Network) have already raised key concerns.
Some of the serious weaknesses in our country’s forest management system include:
- A large portion of forested land is designated as “state forests” and “production forests”, where logging is permitted
- The authority to issue logging licences in each state is concentrated in the hands of the chief minister, who also appoints the director of the state forestry department
- The environmental impact assessment mechanism is unable to deter logging effectively. Often, the environmental consultant sides with those paying him or her, ie the logging companies
- The Orang Asli communities’ interests are not effectively protected in the National Forestry Act 1984. Logging and agricultural activities carried out near their villages may harm their livelihoods
- Many areas that are logged to create plantation forests fail to get developed. The licensed companies disappear after reaping profits from the logging phase
- Logging destroys water catchment areas, causing river sedimentation and flooding. It also affects wild animal habitats, threatening many species with extinction. This triggers clashes between wild animals and rural communities, eroding the country’s biodiversity
Nik Nazmi claimed that Malaysia’s approach to preserving biodiversity is holistic and forward thinking.
The Malaysian government must eradicate the weaknesses in the country’s forest management system to show its commitment to biodiversity conservation.
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Such steps must include:
- Review the current classification of a large proportion of permanent reserve forests as “production forests”. Determine what needs to be changed to flood control forests, water catchment forests and wildlife protection forests
- Create a state-level mechanism of checks and balances, including a committee to monitor the approval of logging licences. Such committees must be free from the influence of the chief minister and forestry director. It must have the power to defer any unsustainable logging approvals until they can be debated in the state assembl
- Transfer the power to appoint environment impact consultants to the Department of Environment
- Classify forest areas near Orang Asli villages as communal forests that cannot be approved for any commercial activity until the village’s application for those forests to be gazetted as Orang Asli reserve land is resolved
- Strictly enforce the moratorium on forest plantation projects, declared in December 2022, including projects approved before that date, but not yet implemented
- Establish a state-level compensation fund that requires logging licence holders to contribute a portion of their gross income to this fund. This is to help cover the cost of any damages or losses sustained by local communities because of logging
Raveen Jeyakumar, an Ipoh-based Aliran volunteer, is a writer who is passionate about social and environmental issues. His work can be found at reform-the-system.com