Malaysian Forest Reserves Denuded of Protection, on the Verge of Deforestation

Malaysian forest reserves are in the verge of deforestation due to logging, mining, and oil palm plantation.
Asian elephants frequently rages into nearby villages because they are deprived of refuge and food. (Vpad236/WikimediaCommons)

Two Malaysian forest reserves in Johor, Malaysia, used to be jungles rich in wildlife diversity. Jemaluang and Tenggaroh are dense forests where elephants, sun bears, and tigers wandered. Extremely endangered

However, in 2014, Johor’s list of permanent forest reserves comprises lands taken into private ownership.  Jemaluang and Tenggaroh are no exceptions. After seven years, bulldozers cleared a fifth of over 17,000  hectares, equivalent to 42,000 acres of land.

Extractive companies devastated a massive expanse of these Malaysian forest reserves to the ground. They also profit from selling timbers while preparing to grow moneymaking oil palm at the same time. All of this happens on the land that Johor sultan owns, also the head of the state.

Jemaluang and Tenggaroh forest reserves used to be a part of the Central Forest Spine (CFS) Master Plan. It is a federal government-driven project which aims to construct a continuous link of forests throughout Peninsular Malaysia.

The updated program will emphasize developing conservation information between state forestry departments. It will also address biodiversity conservation, specifically forest areas. Additionally, it will institute financing mechanisms, such as payment-for-ecosystem services programs.

“[The federal government] never got any commitment from the states to implement the CFS plan. The states always had their ideas of going about things, and [based on the Constitution] they have the right,” said Lim Teckwyn, a forest ecologist.

Malaysian Forest Reserve Issues are State Matters

It is the state which has the constitutional right over forestry issues and not the federal government. Generally,  the Menteri besar or each state’s chief acts as the principal decisionmaker. They undertake the degazetting process discreetly without consulting the opposition or the public.

The fate of Jemaluang and Tenggaroh lies in the hands of two extractive companies – AA Sawit and Nadi Mesra. Johor sultan, Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar owns 51% of AA Sawit. On the other hand, Nadi Mesra is a local firm dealing with timber logging, property investments, and agricultural and mining activities.

Three more project proposals await approval for converting another 24% of the forest reserves into mines and plantations. Nadi Mesra will manage two ventures led by Malaysian businessman Pek Kok Sam. The third is a gold mining joint venture between Johor sultan and Southern Alliance, also run by Pek.

No Home, No Food for Poor Wildlife

Without a home and good to eat, most forest animals rages into nearby villages and towns.  Deforestation forced animals to come into the open in search of food because there’s no more to eat in bare lands. Elephants, in particular, are destructive because it eats oil palms and destroys properties.

Meanwhile, indigenous Penan tribespeople placed roadblocks to hold Samling back from logging in Malaysian Borneo. They accuse the timber company of trespassing on land they consider a part of their ancestral heritage.

Last month, the Penan started setting up their first roadblocks at Long Ajeng in the Upper Baram region of Sarawak state. They built their second blockade in Long Pakanin in the Middle Baram region.

The headmen of the Long Ajeng and Long Pakan villages say Samling is cutting trees without their consent. The villagers started to set up roadblocks when authorities didn’t stop Samling’s illegal logging activities.

If there’s no government intervention to save the forests, the ecosystem will die along with its inhabitants. In this time of the pandemic, most medicines came from plants in the woods. If deforestation continues, not only plants and animals become affected, but humans as well.