All posts by YH Law

Forest-use: The Public Wants A Say

#FORESTFILES: PART 4

Juggling between development and environmental conservation is difficult when it comes to forest-use. But there are ways to be more inclusive. This is Part 4 of Forest Files.

MALAYSIA has had decades of continuous economic and population growth since independence.

In 2019, the country achieved a gross domestic production (GDP) of about RM1.5 trillion, more than a hundred-times the GDP in the 1960s. The population almost quadrupled over the same period.

However, before Malaysia industrialised in the 1980s, it exploited its natural resources, including its most accessible at that time: primary forests, some of the oldest in the world.

(Public participation allows citizens affected by forest-use change to voice out; pictured at the North Kuala Langat Forest Reserve degazettement townhall are [clockwise from top] Kg OA Pulau Kempas’s Tonjoi Bin Pipis and Batin Raman Pahat, and Kg OA Busut Baru’s Rosnah Anak Senin. Pics by Shakila Zen/KUASA)

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Revenue and Power Drive Forest Area Changes

#FORESTFILES: PART 3

To understand forest-use dynamics in Peninsular Malaysia, one must know how state governments – the sole authority on land use – perceive forests. This is Part 3 of Forest Files.

IN AUGUST 2019, when then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad launched a forestry exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, he took the audience down memory lane.

“At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, as the Prime Minister of Malaysia back then, I made a pledge that Malaysia is committed to maintain at least 50 percent of our land mass under forest cover,” said Mahathir.

(Photo: Logs, like these harvested from a permanent reserve forest in Johor, are an important source of revenue for many state governments. Pic by YH Law.)

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Excision – The Main Threat to Forests in Peninsular Malaysia

#FORESTFILES: PART 2

Decades ago, rampant logging looked set to decimate forests in Malaysia. That is no longer the case but a less familiar force is driving forest change – one over which state governments have full control. This is Part 2 of the Forest Files series.

THE 1970s were the golden age of logging in Peninsular Malaysia, veteran loggers told Macaranga.

Then the federal government came up with the National Forestry Policy in 1978 and the National Forestry Act in 1984 to promote sustainable forestry in the country.

(Photo: A new road snakes through a permanent reserve forest bloc in Johor which was last logged in the 1970s. Composite pic by YH Law.)

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Forest Loss: Under Whose Watch?

How much forest loss is too much? And are the drivers of this loss the same as in the past? In Forest Files, Macaranga examines the dynamics and mechanics of forest-use changes in Malaysia. Our four-part In-Depth series focuses on Peninsular Malaysia, where more forests were lost in the last 30 years than in East Malaysia.

In Part 1, we look at how much forest we actually have, forest-use policies, and forestry decision-makers. In Part 2, we consider a key driver of forest loss – excision from permanent reserve forests. Part 3 asks what drives decision-makers and we end with Part 4 on how citizens could influence forest-use.

(Photo: A bird’s eye view of the protected primary hill and lowland rainforest of the Royal Belum State Park, 2003. Pic by SK Chong/Sasyaz Holdings)

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What Conservationists Want In Budget 2021

ACCORDING to the Parliamentary schedule, the Malaysian government will table Budget 2021 in the Parliamentary meeting on 6 November. 

The Budget would reflect the government’s plans to carry the country out of the pandemic woes of 2020. 

Malaysians have had a troubled year. Our lives, economy and national policies were derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic and unexpected changes in the Federal government and state governments of Johor, Melaka, Kedah and Sabah

Many conservation groups struggled to keep finances and operations running.

Amidst the turbulence, Malaysians continue to see our environment degrade: pollution of rivers and coasts; clear-felling and degazettement of forest reserves for economic activities; human-elephant conflicts; and poaching. 

Continue reading What Conservationists Want In Budget 2021

Racing to Save a Plantation of Rare Trees

The bulldozing of millions of rainforest trees in private plantation Penawar Hutan has raised the profile of the value of gene banks for conservation.

IN FEBRUARY, endangered tree species in a plantation in Perak, whose lease had expired, were destroyed by a state-linked company. Mounting public concern brought the matter to the Menteri Besar who quickly stopped the bulldozing. The fate of the trees remains in limbo.

The 200-acre tree plantation in Tanjung Malim is owned and operated by private entity Penawar Hutan Sdn Bhd. It housed up to 2.5 million trees of hundreds of species.

(Photo: Penawar Hutan’s Sheila Ramasamy (left) showing the Perak Menteri Besar’s press secretary Adie Suri Zulkefli a bulldozed section of the plantation, Feb 24, 2020. Credit: YH Law)

Continue reading Racing to Save a Plantation of Rare Trees

A Final Home for Lynas’ Waste?

Lynas Malaysia has located a site in Pahang to build a permanent disposal facility for its radioactive waste, with consent from the state. But what is a permanent disposal facility?

MORE THAN 7 years after they started operations in Malaysia, rare earths producer Lynas Corporation might finally be within grasp of a state-approved solution for its radioactive waste.

In a January 30 statement, Lynas says it has identified a site with consent from the Pahang state government to build what it calls a ‘permanent disposal facility’ (PDF).

(Photo: The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant near Kuantan, Malaysia, March 11, 2019. The facility extracts rare earth oxides from ores imported from Australia and generates radioactive residue in the process. Credit: LawYH)

Continue reading A Final Home for Lynas’ Waste?

Dawn Bat (Eonycteris spelaea)

Species: Eonycteris spelaea (Mammalia : Chiroptera)

Known Range: Southeast Asia

Size: (Adult) 40-70 millimeter, length of a forearm

Interviewed: Zubaid Akbar Mukhtar Ahmad, bat scientist (zubaid.akbar[at]gmail.com)

(Photo: Eonycteris spelaea by Juliana Senawi)

“DO YOU like durians? Do you like petai?” These are the questions Zubaid asks when he’s trying to win some supporters for bats.

Continue reading Dawn Bat (Eonycteris spelaea)

Minute Land Snail (Whittenia vermiculum)

Species: Whittenia vermiculum (Gastropoda: Diplommanitidae) *

Known Range: Gunung Rapat limestone hill, Malaysia

Size: (Adult) 1.0 – 1.5 millimeters

Interviewed: Foon Junn Kitt, malacologist

(Photo: Whittenia vermiculum by Foon Junn Kitt)

HOW IS this a snail, and not just a tiny, whitish, swirly plastic tube? Even its species name, vermiculum, means ‘wormy’ in Latin, which aptly describes the snail’s shell.

Continue reading Minute Land Snail (Whittenia vermiculum)

Quality Malaysian Research

COMMENT BY YH LAW: I WAS very happy to see that most Malaysian speakers aced their presentations at ICCB 2019. The younger speakers deserve special praise—they were confident, lively and eager to share their work. 

They presented effectively and answered questions well. They dished out plenty of positive vibes. And often their friends or colleagues were sitting in the audience—peer support must have helped!

Many of the Malaysian talks I went to showcased on-going work or results of their Master theses, which are often a prelude to bigger research projects.

So, I was often left wanting more. But I’m relieved to see that our younger scientists or conservationists are well trained. 

I am disappointed however, that there was no symposium or plenary dedicated to oil palm. 

Whither oil palm?

Given the impact that oil palm has on the environment, whether perceived or true, not dedicating a plenary or several symposiums on the issue is ignoring the elephant in the room. 

(Though there was a handful of talks about elephants that discussed the animal’s use of oil palm landscapes.) 

With more than 1,300 regional and international participants, mostly conservation practitioners and some industry players, ICCB 2019 in Kuala Lumpur was arguably the best platform to discuss and debate the environmental aspects of oil palm. 

We could have had so much science and so many opinions from experts and practitioners. The exchange might be awkward, perhaps even uncomfortable, but I think that is part of the process needed to get us out of our echo chambers and cross the divide. 

Finding answers

We need solutions to the complex, thorny issue of oil palm, solutions which I doubt would emerge from a feel-good conversation. 

Whatever the solutions might be, we missed the chance to discuss them at ICCB 2019. It’s everyone’s loss, including the government and people of Malaysia and Indonesia, and all concerned conservationists.

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