Sarawak goes for sustainable forest management


Tuesday June 26, 2007

Sarawak goes for sustainable forest management


MIRI: Nearly three quarters of Sarawaks land area of 12.3 million hectares is covered with lush tropical rainforests.

Green gold, that is what Sarawaks forests are often referred to and from aerial views the state is still very much a sea of green.

The paramount importance of forestry to Sarawaks coffers, apart from the petroleum industry, is evident from revenues earned from the states export of timber products.

Statistics revealed that the value of Sarawaks wood exports increased by 26% to RM9.1bil in 2006 from RM7.2bil the previous year.

The timber industry is also a major employer in the state. As of March 31, this year, it provided jobs to 92,360 people or about 40% out of the 229,572 people employed in the state .

As a proactive measure to protect the future of Sarawaks forests, the state subscribes to the Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) concept.

According to Dr Lee Huang Seng, chief executive officer of Sarawak Timber Association (STA), SFM allows a forest to be harvested to meet current demands in such a manner that it does not compromise the needs of future generations.

He said STA, which has about 600 members, most of them in the downstream industries sector, supports SFM through, among others, the implementation of Selective Management System (SMS).

SMS is a harvesting regime that aims to selectively remove commercially traded trees. As such, only between five and seven trees are felled per hectare of area.

Selective logging leaves behind a residual stand which will regenerate naturally to form the crop for the next cutting cycle. The cutting cycle is usually 25 years, he told Bernama in an interview here recently.

Dr Lee has served for over 30 years with Forest Department Sarawak and his last post was Deputy Director.

Samling Global Limited, one of the six main timber companies in Sarawak, has gone a step further by getting certification for one of its concessions or Forest Management Units (FMU) in the state.

Its sector A of the Selaan Linau FMU in the Ulu Baram, covering 55,949ha, was awarded voluntary certification in 2004 by the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC).

The MTCC certification for Forest Management was the first given to a private timber company in Malaysia and also the first in Sarawak.

As global consumers are becoming more environment conscious, forest certification is also designed to send a market signal to buyers that the products they purchase are derived from forests managed in accordance with strict environmental and social standards.

The Selaan Linau FMU is managed by a Forest Management Plan (FMP) that covers among other things forest resource assessment, reduced impact logging, silviculture, forest rehabilitation and reforestation, wildlife management, protection and management of protection areas (water catchment, eco-tourism, cultural sites and biodiversity) and community development.

We operate within the law and under licensing rules and regulations which requires that we act responsibly, said James Ho, Samlings vice president of the Forest Resource Division, adding that certain non-governmental organisations had accused the company of destroying Sarawaks rainforests.

Describing the claims as completely untrue, Ho said Samling had always been concerned about the interest of the indigenous communities.

There are 24 indigenous groups living in Sarawak and about half of them including the Kenyahs, Kayans, Kelabits and Penans live in our concession area.

We operate within the confines of the law which the government prescribes including the well-being of the indigenous people. Before we begin operations, we always consult the local communities to get their feedback and come to amicable agreement before we carry out harvesting work, said Ho.

Over the years, Samling has helped countless groups of indigenous people.

This includes building access roads linking local communities to main roads that enable those living in the forests to obtain education, medical and social facilities.

On deforestation, Ho pointed out that shifting cultivation as one of the contributing factors.

The moment we open logging roads, the natives start cutting, he said.

STAs Dr Lee has the same opinion.

This practice (shifting cultivation) is not traditional any more. The rate of felling has increased because many people in rural areas have access to chainsaws. Now, because there are logging roads, they are very mobile.

As a result, the forests become degraded, he said, adding that about 23% of Sarawaks land area had been impacted by shifting cultivation.

As part of conservation measures, the state has issued licences for logging companies to carry out what is called planted forests.

According to Dr Lee, about 38 licences have been issued for such purposes, covering an area of more than 1.5 million ha.

It is one of the ways to conserve the forests in Sarawak and take pressure off from the harvesting of natural forest areas, he said.

Samling, as one the licensees for planted forests, is actively pursuing reforestation efforts as shown by its Paong Reforestation Project.

Started in 2002, the project to date has 7,400ha planted with trees that include acasia mangium, hevea and eucalyptus pelita.

In total, the state has given the company 400,000ha for planted forest projects.

To fulfil the aspect of wildlife conservation under the FMP in the Selaan Linau FMU, Samling has engaged the help of the Wildlife Conservation Society based in New York. Bernama