Grow a for­est

Re­for­esta­tion ef­fort in Sabah gets a help­ing hand from the cor­po­rate sec­tor.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ECOWATCH - By CHRIS­TINE CHEAH star2­green@thes­tar.com.my

LIV­ING in their lit­tle bub­bles of com­fort zone, many peo­ple hardly re­alise how our forests have grad­u­ally de­pleted through time. Last month, Google re­leased a map high­light­ing the world’s alarm­ing rate of de­for­esta­tion.

The global for­est map showed Malaysia to have the high­est rate of for­est loss be­tween 2000 and 2012 – at 14.4% which trans­lates to 47,728sqkm of lost veg­e­ta­tion. Though re­for­esta­tion ef­forts have been on­go­ing, they are still not enough to sus­tain the ex­ten­sive de­cline of nat­u­ral forests.

While Bor­neo was once known for its vir­gin forests and orang utans, it is not re­ally the case any­more, es­pe­cially for Sabah. Sabah Forestry Depart­ment se­nior re­search of­fi­cer Dr Robert Ong said that an es­ti­mated 60% of Sabah’s forests is re­served for tim­ber pro­duc­tion and the rest are con­ser­va­tion ar­eas, which does not in­clude the al­ready de­for­ested grounds for agri­cul­ture pur­poses.

“There were crit­i­cisms that we were putting ef­forts into logged forests and were not sav­ing pris­tine forests, but re­for­esta­tion ef­forts are im­por­tant, too.

“It takes at least 50 years for a re­for­ested area to re­sem­ble a nat­u­rally grown for­est but in just five to six years, you would be able to see some im­pact,” Ong said.

On the bright side, he added that re­for­esta­tion was be­com­ing a trend. “Pro­tected ar­eas have in­creased through the years and we are try­ing to con­vert pro­duc­tion ar­eas into pro­tected ar­eas.”

The cor­po­rate sec­tor has heeded the call to as­sist in re­for­esta­tion ef­forts in Sabah, with the lat­est one be­ing Senheng Elec­tric, which has vouched to re­for­est 46ha in North Ulu Segama, Lahad Datu.

The area to be re­for­ested is the Bukit Pi­ton For­est Re­serve, which is part of the Ulu Segama Malua For­est Re­serve. Late last month, Senheng brought 20 peo­ple that in­cluded em­ploy­ees and guests to plant 200 tree seedlings in its Plant A Tree pro­gramme jointly con­ducted with World Wide Fund for Na­ture Malaysia (WWF).

“It’s a great ac­tiv­ity and we felt that it was worth spend­ing a few hun­dred thou­sand on this three­year part­ner­ship to re­for­est the area,” said Senheng man­ag­ing di­rec­tor K.H. Lim.

They planted fruit trees which the orang utans feed on.

WWF for­est restora­tion man­ager Fer­di­nand Lobin­siu ex­plained that seeds of trees that grow on the edge of the for­est re­serve were col­lected and planted in a nurs­ery. Af­ter six to 12 months, the seedlings were ready to be planted in the for­est.

“There are a to­tal of 30 species of trees planted here. There needs to be a va­ri­ety of tall trees and short ones,” said Lobin­siu.

He ex­plained that once the for­est cover was es­tab­lished, it would at­tract orang utans and other species to colonise the space.

Bukit Pi­ton was once home to many orang utans. In 1983, the El Nino drought left detri­men­tal ef­fects on the habi­tat – some 12,000ha was razed and it was left un­re­ha­bil­i­tated.

In the last aerial and ground sur­vey of 2006, it was found that the orang utan pop­u­la­tion in Bukit Pi­ton was be­tween 130 to 220.

The sur­round­ing ar­eas of the for­est are now oil palm plan­ta­tions. Hence, most of the sur­viv­ing orang utans are now iso­lated in the north­ern re­gion of the Ulu Segama Malua For­est Re­serve.

With ex­ten­sive re­for­esta­tion ef­forts by WWF, Senheng and other par­ties, hope­fully in a few years time, orang utans will re­turn to where they once call home.

Green moves: a vol­un­teer plant­ing a seedling at bukit Pi­ton For­est re­serve in Lahad datu, Sabah, as part of the Plant a Tree pro­gramme by Senheng elec­tric. — onG Soon HIn/The Star

Tree seedlings were planted in neat rows at bukit Pi­ton For­est re­serve.

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