Plantation development in the Lesong Permanent Reserved Forest: Are we really practising sustainable forestry?

SAM deplores the decision of the Pahang State Government to permit forest conversion activities to take place within the Lesong Permanent Reserved Forest (PRF) in Kuala Rompin.

On September 25, The Star reported that the Pahang Forestry Department had reasoned that since a third of the Lesong PRF is deemed to contain poor quality timber, “hence, a decision was made by the Pahang state government to convert part of Lesong that is poor in standing volume composition into commercial timber plantations.”

Currently, 3000 hectares of the Lesong PRF is being cleared. The area concerned, believed to be the size of Cyberjaya, is said to have come under a larger 16,896 hectare area designated by Pahang as an industrial timber plantation since 2012. It has been categorised as a ‘degraded’ forest. Altogether, the Lesong PRF stands at 52,464 hectares.

Over the years, our policy makers and industry interest groups have been persistent in their claim that Malaysia practices sustainable forestry management. This despite the fact that timber production and export trends in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak have all consistently demonstrated an immediate sequence of rapid growth and a steady decline – usually completed within three decades or so. Subsequently, plantation development would be introduced in some of the logged over forests. All these seem to contradict our claim on sustainable forestry.

A plantation is not a forest. There is no such thing as a ‘forest plantation’. It is therefore scientifically, statistically and ecologically misleading to allow plantations to remain within a gazetted PRF.

Under the National Forestry Act 1984, within the gazetted PRF, timber production forests fall under the functional class timber production forest under sustained yield. This term itself is clearly indicative of its sustainability objective – the PRF must be logged and managed in such a way so as to ensure that timber production can be permanently sustained.

How can then parts of a PRF simply be converted into a plantation under the justification that the areas are now considered ‘degraded’? If the Lesong PRF had indeed been sustainably managed, how is it possible that parts of it is now ‘degraded’? Has the PRF been overlogged and under-cared for in the past? Forests do not suddenly ‘degrade’ for no particular reason.

Equally important, what is the ‘grade of degradation’ the forest suffers from that conversion is preferred above all other options? Is the term ‘degraded’ defined based on rigorous science – which can be utilised to develop a suitable rehabilitation plan for ecological restoration, or is it defined more on the basis of commercial lucrativeness – which prioritises short-sighted but immense profitability for loggers, against the possibility of sustainable management for the public good well into the future?

Curiously, despite its degradation, the report from The Star seemed to point to an abundance of harvested logs from the area. How can the logged forest be considered degraded when the estimated value of timber from it is RM150 million?

Thus, if it is still highly profitable to log the forest concerned, why can’t its conservation and sustainable management be affordable too? This is an important matter, considering the proximity of the Lesong PRF to the Endau Rompin National Park.

We call on the Pahang authorities to stop the logging and undertake rehabilitation of the ‘degraded’ forest.

Press release, 26 Sept 2014