Sabah’ commitment to sustainable forest management

The Sabah Forestry Department is taking all the necessary measures to increase its acreage of protected forests to 2.2 million hectares (ha), or 30 per cent of the state's land area, by 2025, said its Director Datuk Sam Mannan. To date, about 1.5 million ha have been gazetted as Totally Protected Areas (TPA), he said, adding that the department hoped to gazette about 200,000 ha of forests a year in order to reach its target."Attaining this target is one of our most important goals," he said recently.

According to its website, the department is currently the custodian of about 3.6 million ha of forests, which is equivalent to 49.1 per cent of Sabah's land mass. As of November last year, about 1.04 million ha of the TPA had been classified as Class One Protected Forest Reserve. Class I forests are conserved primarily for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation and are protected by law from any form of land conversion or timber exploitation.

Sabah's forests have six other classifications, including virgin jungle forest, mangrove forest and wildlife reserve. Three other classes of forests - production forest, domestic forest and amenity forest - allow logging and recreational activities, among others, to be carried out there.

The department has implemented various policies as part of its efforts to attain good forest governance, one of them being phasing out short-term licences for activities inside forest reserves. On forest encroachment, Sam said the department has seized about 40,000 ha of encroached areas, with another 10,000 ha to sort out. "We must look at it on a case-by-case basis. If it involves poachers and illegal loggers, we show them no mercy. But if it is a matter of communities who have lived on the land for years, then we will see what we can do. "We also have community programmes that allow them to stay on our land, provided they don't do anything to harm the forest and wildlife there," he told a press conference at the Sabah Forestry Department's headquarters here, recently, following a media visit to the orang utan habitat at Bukit Piton Forest Reserve near Lahad Datu.

The department spent nearly RM2 million a year on forest surveillance using helicopters, which were hired at RM2,000 per hour, he added. Sam also said that for cost-saving sustainable forest management, proper planning and a comprehensive restoration plan were of utmost importance, instead of implementing programmes on a trial and error basis. "The state government has to make sure that it's not too dependent on timber as a revenue source. It has to diversify its sources of income as our aim is to restore our forests," he said. He said the department was fortunate that its forest conservation efforts have received the support of not only the state government but the federal government and political parties as well. "We had spent RM150 million on forest restoration over the last 10 years. The Sabah government spends more money on forest restoration than any other state government in this country," he added. He also credited Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman as the "driver" behind the state's successful forest restoration story.

Sam also said that his department was building a mid-range resort at the Ulu Segama-Malua Forest Reserve, near Lahad Datu, to attract tourists and create awareness on forest conservation. "It's an excellent place to enjoy the beauty of nature...tourists and visitors will only have to take an 80-minute drive from the Lahad Datu Airport to get to the forest reserve," he said. Pointing out that the 40-room resort would be ready in three months' time, he said the Ulu Segama-Malua Forest Reserve has more wildlife attractions than the Danum Valley, which is a two-hour drive from Lahad Datu. "We're currently in discussions with the Sabah Foundation to operate the resort as they have the experience. If it doesn't work out, we will look for someone else (to run the resort)," he added.

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