Below is a revelation by the Director of Sabah Forestry Department Sam Mannan on how successive governments meaning previous chief ministers prevented the preservation and protection of water catchment areas in forest reserves.
Logging in Sabah was at its peak during the Berjaya and PBS administrations where vast tract of forests were given away to cronies and those with strong and close connections to the top leadership.
There are very little commercial forests left in Sabah now.Most have been exploited and turned into oil palm plantations.
If one were to drive from Telupid all the way to Tawau what was once virgin forests is now vast oil palm plantations.In fact, the whole stretch of the East Coast from Pitas to Tawau is nothing but oil palms.
The Kinabatangan and Sapi Rivers once homes to the Irrawaddy dolphins have now completely disappeared from the rivers due to pollution from oil palm plantations.It is one of the most endangered species and still under threat of extinction in other locations.
The Director of Forestry San Mannan is a man of conviction that Sabah forests must be saved from further destruction.The state government have stopped issuing lands for oil palms in order to carry out its conservation programmes.
His no nonsense approach to conservation of vital forests has made him and Chief Minister Musa Aman very unpopular with certain group of people.
That's why, every now and then for the past few years, you would come across article like this one.
None of the soothsayers many predictions have seen the light of day.
Dept saves water catchment
Published on: Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Kota Kinabalu: The Forestry Department was prevented by successive governments in the 1980s and 1990s from discharging its duties, resulting in the plunder of resources in the Ulu Kalumpang Forest Reserve.
Director, Datuk Sam Mannan in a statement, Tuesday, said there was no political will to address the problem and the Department was left impotent.
"Over the years, various personalities, for reasons only known to themselves, promoted the demands of the plunderers to excise a big portion of Ulu Kalumpang as an endowment - i.e. reward for their illegal activities as some may interpret it.
"Thankfully, the National Forest Policy on forest reserves would not allow such an eventuality," he said. He was responding to reports on purported grievances of certain people on actions taken by Department to enforce the law and protect the Ulu Kalumpang Forest Reserve.
This is so as to rehabilitate and reverse its deterioration as a vital water catchment for the people of Tawau and Kunak, in particular, over the last two months.
He said the Ulu Kalumpang Forest Reserve (Class I Protection) and the Kalumpang Virgin Jungle Reserve (Class VI) measuring about 54,886ha., were first gazetted on Jan. 27, 1955 as forest reserves opened for logging.
Concessions were issued from the colonial era until the area was closed altogether from logging in 1986.
In 1992, the State Government re-gazetted the area for protection and conservation, changing the status to Class I and Class VI respectfully.
He said in the bid to reinforce the vital life-giving functions of the forest, and its bio-diversity, the Sabah Government in a landmark decision on March 15, 2006, declared Ulu Kalumpang as a SFM (Sustainable Forest Management) Project Area, with conservation as the primary objective and for its water resources to be protected to ensure sustainable water production for the people of Tawau and Kunak.
Since this declaration, SFM has been implemented on the ground focusing on forest re-habilitation, the development of permanent camp sites and infrastructure and the provision of substantial funding under the Ninth Malaysian Plan, both from the Federal and State Governments, the Sabah Development Corridor and annually recurrent allocations.
He said for 2006-2010 some RM12.75 million was allocated for this purpose.
A Forest Management Plan (FMP) was also being prepared to guide the Department in its endeavor to fully restore degraded and encroached areas within the reserve.
Preliminary results of the planning process revealed that the area is still rich in bio-diversity despite the past logging with a resident pygmy elephant population, Orang uUtans and also Tembadau, among other species.
Sam said that problems came about after campsites set up in the 1950s to early 1980s at two main sites - Landau and Sungai Mantri - became semi-permanent settlements and activities of the occupants expanded to illegal cocoa cultivation and other crops in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Sensing danger if the problem was not arrested in the bud, the Department, with police protection, evicted the illegal settlers in the mid-1980s, primarily Sarawakians then, after the due process of notice issuances and warnings.
"Unfortunately, the government of the day, stopped the eviction and allowed the illegal settlers to return to their longhouses.
"This was at great embarrassment to the department which had to apologise to the police for wasting their resources," he said.
Sam said that encouraged by the government injunction against the Forestry Department to discharge its duties, the illegal settlements expanded and thrived.
"It became a bad example for others to follow and mayhem broke lose with behind-the-scenes financial backers moving in, civil servants, small time businessmen, etc.
"To accelerate the destruction of rainforests for cropping, that by the 1990s had switched to oil palm, illegal immigrant workers (Patis) were recruited by the droves).
"The role of illegals in forest destruction cannot be underestimated.
For example, out of 732 arrests of encroachers between 2003 and 2006, 471 were illegals or 64 per cent.
"Not only illegal logging accelerated but also total conversion of good rainforests," he said.
However, when the leadership of Sabah changed in 2003, the Forestry Department approached the Chief Minister and Cabinet on the dire situation in Ulu Kalumpang and presented a strong case to once and for all address the problem and translate decisions into actions on the ground.
"With this, came the vital and courageous Cabinet decision of 15.3.2006, which unequivocally empowered the Forestry Department to discharge its duties in the public interest.
"After nearly three decades of meek environmental leadership, the die was cast for good forest governance. For the first time, the department was allowed to discharge its duties," he said.
Sam said the cost of the weak leadership prior to this was the plundering, which resulted in over 7,000 hectares of illegal oil palm being planted.
While over 8,000 hectares of regenerating forests have been cleared and degraded, protection functions of Ulu Kalumpang have been impaired, habitats for iconic wildlife (orang utans, elephants, bears, etc) have been destroyed and rivers in the reserves became open sewers used by the illegal occupants.
The water protection capacity of the reserve also deteriorated, which may explain some of the reasons for the inadequate water supply in Tawau.
Besides that, the reputation of the vital oil palm industry of Sabah and Malaysia had been damaged by this clear example of rainforest destruction for oil palm lending global repercussions for the industry.
"Forest lands that belong to the people of Sabah have been hijacked by a handful of plunderers as their personal fiefdom for free, regardless of the cost and loss to society at large.
"One may even ask, as to how illegal oil palm can get sold when licences are required for sales?" he said, adding that monied opportunists were able to promote their interest by proxy and it is not cheap to develop 7000 hectares of oil palm, as it required million of ringgit.
In a nutshell, he said it depicted a picture of incompetence and poor governance, and tyranny of the few being allowed to prevail.
Sam said the plunderers had not stopped as there was even an attempt on Jan. 1, this year, by one encroacher to hurt an excavator operator engaged by the Department to destroy the illegal oil palm at site, by discharging his home-made shotgun at the excavator with the operator inside.
It became a criminal case and the perpetrator was brought to court and jailed eight months while five other encroachers were also charged with various offences.
There were also attempts to burn Ulu Kalumpang through the kindling of felled illegal oil palm in the areas being rehabilitated.
He said that as the department staff at site continue to be harassed by the evicted encroachers, mostly absentee landlords at best, the police has provided armed personnel on full time basis to protect forestry department staff at site and the appointed rehabilitation contractor.
The presence of the police proved an effective deterrent and the Department records its utmost gratitude to the Commissioner of Police for rendering his assistance, he said.
The Department also lodged complaints with various government departments on the encroachers. "Two of the encroachers have been identified as teachers," he said.
Sam said to date, about 1500 hectares of illegal oil palm have been destroyed with the eventual target of 2,600 hectares by the end of 2010.
About 363 hectares of mixed indigenous forests have also been re-established.
The eventual target is to have the whole encroached area fully rehabilitated and restored by the end of the 10th Malaysian Plan.
"More funding has also been sought under the coming 10th Malaysian Plan," he said.
"As mob rule cannot be allowed to dictate public policy, and the Rule of Law prevails in Malaysia, the Department shall continue in its endeavour to restore the vital life support system of Ulu Kalumpang.
"Such enforcement operations are also carried out in many other forest reserves (e.g. Andrassy, Garinono, Ulu Segama, Sapagaya, etc) for similar reasons.Daily Express