Ensuring safe habitat for wildlife

Asian elephants (Elephas maximus indicus). Photo: NUTTAYA MANEEKHOT / National Geographic

The Forest Department Sarawak (FDS) maintains a keen focus on its comprehensive forest restoration plans which benefit nature as well as local communities.

Its director Datuk Hamden Mohammad said among these plans was to conserve and increase the coverage of forested area in Malaysia through enrichment planting, adding that forested area is presently at 55.3 percent, covering 18.27 million hectares of the country’s land area.

“The enrichment planting involves local communities, government agencies, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders to enhance forest cover,” he said in conjunction with International Day of Forests, which is celebrated on March 21 every year.

He said FDS also closely monitored the planting progress by Licence for Planted Forests holders to achieve the state’s target of planting one million hectares of forest by 2025 for constant supply of timber.

In addition, he said all Forests Timber Licence holders were required to carry out enrichment planting within their licensed areas and they should plant indigenous trees, adding that the total number of trees planted should be equivalent to the number of trees harvested.

“FDS advocates inclusive Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) participatory process and encourages stakeholders and local communities to be the catalyst for FLR growth within the state through their active participation in any restoration activities, such as enrichment planting and supply of seedlings, wildings, seeds and so on.”

He said the state government’s restoration efforts would also provide a safe habitat for wildlife and reduce the impact of climate change, whilst continuing to provide revenue to Sarawak through less detrimental activities such as ecotourism.

“The focus will mainly be on Permanent Forest Estate areas throughout the state.”

Hamden said FDS’ forest restoration plans also included enhancing collaboration with other government agencies, corporate bodies and the private sector to encourage them in greening Sarawak.

“FDS will also be looking into collaboration with local councils for urban forestry.”

He said the state government was intensifying the FLR programme through FDS, in collaboration with various government agencies, stakeholders and local communities to achieve the goal of planting 35 million trees throughout Sarawak by 2025.

“This goal is also in line with the national 100 Million Tree Planting Campaign, led by the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, which will cover an area of 20,000 to 80,000 hectares nationwide by 2025.”

He said the objectives for the FLR implementation in Sarawak were to enrich logged-over areas with high value timber species, restore and rehabilitate degraded forests in Totally Protected Areas, alleviate the livelihood of forest-dependent communities and reduce pressure on natural forests by shifting timber production towards plantations of indigenous fast-growing species.

“In combating deforestation in Sarawak, the state government is obligated to ensure sufficient state land area is always under forest cover, adequate to provide ecosystem services like watershed areas and habitat for flora and fauna.”

In addition, he said climate change mitigation was part of the agenda, as seen in the collaboration with Sarawak Energy Berhad through a Memorandum of Understanding signed for a project titled ‘Enrichment Planting Project in Batang Ai Dam for Conservation of Hydropower Catchment Area, Carbon Sequestration and Food Security to Mitigate Climate Change’.

“Other than that, FDS is also looking to explore opportunities in the study on carbon stocks for low carbon trade and payment for ecosystem services.”

In terms of benefits of the FLR programme towards nature, Hamden said forest conservation was increased through planting activities, rehabilitation and restoration of degraded areas. At the same time, he said wildlife habitats were retained through such efforts.

He said local communities benefited as they were engaged in FLR activities such as seed collection, seedling maintenance at nurseries, field planting activities, as well as the enhancement of communication, education and public awareness.

“Local communities engaged in FLR activities are hired in the implementation process. Communities who depend on forests for their livelihood can also have alternative income from the engagement with FDS and non-timber forest products made and sold at markets.”