In trying to justify its action to degazette 536.7ha of the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve (KLNFR) on Aug 12, the Selangor government has made a number of false and misleading claims including:
a. The forest is always burning; degazetting and developing the forested areas is claimed to be the best way to stop the fires;
b. The forest is all degraded and there are no tall trees in the forest to be degazetted;
c. The forest is too small, is surrounded by development and is not viable for conservation;
d. The local Orang Asli community no longer visits or depends on the forest;
e. The Orang Asli community supports the degazettement.
The Pertahankan Hutan Simpan Kuala Langat Utara (PHSKLU) Coalition can easily refute the above false claims based on the evidence its members have gathered over many years as well as testimony from the Orang Asli community.
1) No significant fires have burnt since 2016
Prior to 2016, there were fires which affected KLNFR, almost all of which started in adjacent areas – namely the Elite Highway to KLIA which lies to the west, and the land developed for Gamuda Cove to the south, which spread into the forested area in times of drought.
In 2016, 10,000 trees were planted as part of a collaboration between the local Orang Asli community, the forestry department and adjacent landowners including Boh Plantation Estate and Gamuda Cove. Action was also taken to prevent fires by blocking drains and raising water levels and conducting daily fire prevention patrols around the perimeter of the forest.
As a result, there have been only two relatively small fires in the past five years and neither was in the area proposed for degazettement. More than 300 hectares of the forest area impacted by fire have recovered well, with the regrowth of medium to tall forest or planting of trees by the Orang Asli community.
Clearing and draining the degazetted portion of the site will disrupt the hydrology and lead to significantly increased risk of fires, releasing the stored carbon and accelerating global warming. Degazetting this site will also be a waste of public funds as approximately RM2.2 million has been spent to build fire prevention infrastructure in the forest reserve.
2) 98% of the degazetted area has forest cover and 50% consists of tall trees
The area degazetted by the state in August 2021 is dominated by good forests with tall trees and high diversity of species. Areas damaged by fire in 2014 have recovered to medium-height forest (5-10m tall). An assessment in September 2021 has indicated that the degazetted area includes the following mix of forest types:
Breakdown of land cover types for the degazetted area is as follows:
|High quality, tall forest||265||49.38%|
|Medium height forest||259||48.26%|
|Orang Asli cultivation land||4.2||0.78%|
3) The forest is ecologically viable due to unique geographic features
The KLNFR covers an area of 957.63 hectares or nearly 10 sq km. It comprises a mix of lowland dipterocarp forest and peat swamp forest. The peat swamp forest is surrounded on three sides by low hills, which channel water to maintain water levels in the forest and prevent drainage. The forest, although originally larger, has been the same size for the past 30 years and there is no indication that there has been any reduction in plant and animal species.
A 2020 study commissioned by the Selangor government confirmed it is a high conservation value (HCV) area with up to 123 flora and 124 fauna species found. The forest is an important habitat of critically endangered plant and animal species, including several endemic flora species such as Setawar (Cheloctus globosus), Kandis (Garcinia mangayi), and Penarahan (Knema plumose) and endangered fauna species such as Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica), Pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca nemestrina), White-handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar). The endemic Langat Red Betta (Betta livida) is only found in this and one other location in the world.
Therefore, if the area is split into two by degazettement and the northern portion of the site developed for mixed development, the hydrology and ecology of the remaining area will be severely disrupted and it may not be ecologically viable (at least for larger species).
4) The Orang Asli community visits and uses the forest on a daily basis
When the forest was first gazetted as a forest reserve in 1927, the rights of the Orang Asli community were officially recognised to live within the forest, harvest forest products, manage dusuns and use the water resources. The Orang Asli have a close cultural affinity with the forest and some still depend on it for livelihood and welfare. Clearing and developing the area for a mixed development project will destroy the heritage of the community. It will also intensify the human-wildlife conflicts in the area for the community because it means that people and the various wildlife will have to occupy and share the reduced amount of forest area.
The degazetted area is immediately adjacent to the houses of Kg Orang Asli Busut Baru. This is one of the largest Orang Asli villages in Kuala Langat (with a population of nearly 450) and the community has a very close connection to the forest, relying on food and medicinal plants from the forest and undertaking many community and cultural activities in the area.
Some community members have established small dusuns inside the forest, all of which will also be lost with the degazettement. Although their houses are just outside (within 5-10m distance) of the area that has been degazetted, loss of the forest and construction of a mixed development project at their doorstep will have a fundamental, major and negative impact on their lives. There has been zero meaningful consultation with the affected Orang Asli community members in relation to the degazettement of the forest.
5) The vast majority of the Orang Asli community support the protection of the forest
Since the initial announcement of the proposed degazettement of the forest reserve, the leaders and residents of the five Orang Asli villages in the area around the forest have repeatedly strongly objected, and demonstrated publicly against the degazettement. They have also presented memoranda to the state government asking for the proposal to be dropped.
Subsequently, community members and leaders received threats and were warned that their houses and existing village land would be taken away if they continued to support the protection of the forest. Some village leaders were pressured to sign a letter indicating that they would drop their objections to the degazettement if their villages were gazetted as Orang Asli Reserves. Nevertheless, many of the leaders and community members have continued to object to the degazettement of the forest over the last 18 months.
The PHSKLU Coalition demands that the Selangor government immediately revoke the degazettement of the 536.7ha of the KLNFR and work with the Orang Asli communities and other stakeholders to protect KLNFR as a critical carbon-storing ecosystem for climate mitigation and adaptation and biodiversity conservation as well as develop meaningful sustainable livelihoods for the Orang Asli community based on the forest such as ecotourism or edutourism.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.