Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) is disappointed that the Kedah State Government continued to license logging in the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve (UMFR), threatening its life-supporting functions.

Covering a total land area of more than 163, 000 hectares (ha), the Greater Ulu Muda Forest which comprises the UMFR and surrounding forest reserves, is the largest natural heritage area in the northern region. This forest complex is twice the size of Singapore or 1.5 times the size of the State of Penang.

The UMFR is home to many rare and endemic species, sheltering thousands of species, including large mammals such as the Asian Elephant, Clouded Leopard, serow, Malayan Tapir, Malayan Sun Bear and 10 types of Hornbills.

Due to its size and nature, the UMFR serves as a huge carbon sink that traps carbon dioxide and produces oxygen daily. In this context, the UMFR helps to mitigate the effects of climate change and global warming.

Most importantly, the UMFR is the largest water catchment area in the northern region. Rainwater collected in the natural environment of the Greater Ulu Muda forests fills the three major dams in Kedah – the Ahning Dam, the Muda Dam and the Pedu Dam. Raw water from the Ulu Muda also flows through Sungai Muda to Penang.

Raw water that originates from the UMFR is treated daily to meet 70% of Perlis’ daily water needs, 96% of Kedah’s daily water needs and more than 80% of Penang’s daily water needs.

In short, the UMFR collects raw water to meet the water supply needs of a total estimated population of 4.09 million people in three states. People need water daily, and with population growth, more raw water will be needed from the UMFR in the future.

Since water is an essential element for all sectors, ranging from agriculture to businesses, the economies of Perlis, Kedah and Penang are very much dependent on the UMFR.

Raw water originating from Ulu Muda is essential for double cropping in the rice fields of Kedah, Perlis and Penang. The paddy parcel in the Muda Agriculture Development Authority’s jurisdiction is largest in the nation covering an area of 100,685ha. Thus the MADA paddy fields is a major contributor to Malaysia’s local rice supply.

There are many important reasons to conserve and protect the forest reserves in Greater Ulu Muda as a precious national resource. Instead, Kedah continued to issue logging licence in the UMFR for short-term gains from “forest premiums”.

The negative “fall-out” effects of logging in the UMFR include:

  • Deforestation and annihilation of endemic species of plants and animals;
  • Increased poaching activities in the forest reserves with easier access into deep forest regions via logging roads/tracks;
  • Destruction of the biggest “carbon sink” in the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia;
  • Raising the risk of a water crisis for 4.09 million people in Perlis, Kedah and Penang, especially during dry seasons;
  • Endangering all economic activities in Perlis, Kedah and Penang;
  • Undermining Kedah’s role as the “Ricebowl of Malaysia” that produces one-third of the nation’s rice; and
  • Increased risk of mud flows and the sedimentation of rivers flowing from the forest reserves which consequently leads to heavy flooding downstream of Ulu Muda.

In the past 12 months, Friends of Ulu Muda, environmental organisations, think-tanks, academia, and institutions have publicly called for a ban on logging in the UMFR. On the mass media front, Kosmo! and The Star have published in-depth exposés related to logging in the UMFR from 2016 till 2018 and news reports on logging in the UMFR have been published in all major newspapers in the country, as well as in various online news portals.

A rudimentary “Google” search will reveal video reports, photos and satellite images that reveal and document how logging has damaged areas in the UMFR.

Despite the exposés and outcry, the Kedah State Government continues to insist that logging in the UMFR is a “Kedah issue”. In January 2018, the Kedah Forestry Department allegedly submitted a report to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) claiming that “logging did not have an environmental impact” in the UMFR.

In this regard, we urge the NRE Ministry to make public the scientific data from the Kedah report for it to be scrutinised and viewed by other stakeholders. It is important to note that this call has also been made by Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang Sdn Bhd (PBAPP) in its press release dated 7th February 2018.

SAM & CAP urge Zero-Logging in Ulu Muda

From SAM and CAP’s standpoint, there should be “zero-logging” in Ulu Muda and the Kedah State Government must act to accordingly. There should be no such thing as “licensed logging” in the UMFR, let alone “unlicensed logging” and other extractive activities such as mining or quarrying.

The Federal Government should also provide some financial resources to the Kedah State Government to protect and rehabilitate the UMFR. There are international funds available that the government can tap into such as the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility to ensure that Malaysia is able to meet its international committments in protecting biodiversity and in addressing climate change.

The Federal government must ensure that the Kedah State government classifies the Permanent Reserved Forests in the Greater Ulu Muda as water catchment forests for the greater good.

Letter to the Editor, 14 March 2018