May have to sacrifice' 600,000ha forest reserves

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

SOME 600,000 hectares of reserved forests in Sabah may have to be "sacrificed" due to increasing dependence on planted forests for timber supply and forest revenue from trees and agro-forestry crops.

Sabah Forestry Department Director Datuk Sam Mannan, said, this is necessary "in order for us to maintain in perpetuity, the best forests, the best bio-diversity, save what is really important and manage them intensively, on the ground, so that the crown jewel is not lost".

He said this year would be record in that Sabah would earn the least forest revenue since 1973. "This will be about RM120 million and it will continue to slide to about RM50 million per annum for the next 2O years before building up again," he said at the International Conference on Heart of Borneo's Natural Capital: Unleashing their Potential for Sustainable Growth in Sabah.

He said this was not by chance but by design, to leave exploitative forestry for sustainable forestry. He said to run the Forestry Department required about RM100 million a year and at least another RM50 million for development projects and forest restoration.

From a technical point of view, the department appears to be basically insolvent. "But we are not bankrupt because we still have priceless green capital in our forests.

"The point is, huge sacrifices have been made in the State of Sabah, in the interest of long term conservation and an endowment for future generations," he said. So, credit must be given for the political courage to have achieved this so far, Mannan said.

He said conservation would fail if it emphasises the social and environmental aspects only. "You cannot ignore the economic component. One dead elephant does not mean the end of the world: We must move.on but we must make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.

On the other hand, there should not be prejudice against oil palm, he said, because it is actually financing much of the conservation efforts in Sabah today.

"And whether we like it or not, oil palm is here to stay. A pathological negative reaction against oil palm will only do more harm than good, like an ostrich putting its head in the sand."

While the world could not care less about certified timber, Mannan said it would not stop Sabah from being certified simply because it builds up its credibility. "In the long run, what the society accepts as good behaviour is what matters."

Nevertheless, certified timber is no longer a saviour as it is pure economic and financial decisions that drive people to buy certified timber with a premium or otherwise, he said.

Sabah has 900,O00ha of forests under various stages of certification.

"But we are now basically stuck and at a stalemate. We cannot seem to go further because virtually all the certification standards are too rigid, not flexible and hang on to guidelines," h9 said.

Mannan said he recently pleaded for Sabah's case emphasising that with certification, certification-organisation can influence performance, behaviour and standards on the ground.

However, it is unlikely to be altered because the decision is by consensus and not by majority opinion. "One or two extremists or environmental terrorists can derail good intentions. In other words, the tyranny of the minority prevails," he said.

Citing New Zealand, he said the country's timber was virtually all certified and is becoming the biggest exporter of planted logs in the world. The plantations were established from converted forests prior to 1994 and in large swathes.

But this conversion, unknown to many, wiped off over 50 per cent of its natural forests in 50 years, about 50,000 square miles, almost twice the size of Sabah, he said.

And they got away with it, he said, which only shows the double standard.

Despite that, Mannan said Sabah is willing to try anything just to make the green capital work.

- Extracted from TheDailyExpress by Kinabalu Today


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