13 Nov 2008
Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: Habitats of the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros and the endangered Malayan tiger are under threat from a plan to clear nearly 19,000 hectares of forest in north-eastern Malaysia.
A Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) has revealed that the Terengganu state government has proposed to extract all commercially valuable timber in 12,630ha of forest, adjacent to the 6,130ha of forest reserve currently being cleared for the construction of two hydropower dams.
The Tembat and Petuang Forest Reserves also act as a water catchment area for Tasik Kenyir, the largest man-made lake in South-east Asia. They are currently being logged to build the Puah and Tembat dams and are home to the Sumatran rhinoceros and Malayan tiger. The forest reserves also fall within the dam catchment area.
In addition the DEIA, which was available for public viewing recently, states that 30 per cent of the existing elephant population within the project area will be forced into nearby plantations, creating more human-elephant conflict.
“Evidence on the ground also suggests that logging and clearing of the reservoir area has already proceeded prior to the approval of the DEIA,” said Dato’ Dr. Dionysius Sharma, CEO of WWF-Malaysia. “There seems to be little regard for relevant laws and the DEIA process.”
A survey conducted as part of the DEIA has revealed evidence of the presence of the elusive Sumatran rhinoceros within the Tembat Forest Reserve, and as recently as August 2008 a survey by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ Sumatran Rhinoceros Task Force revealed evidence such as feeding trails and horn scratch marks.
Both forest reserves are also habitats for other endangered wildlife like the Malayan tiger and Malayan tapir, which are totally protected under the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972.
Dato’ Dionysius also expressed his concerns over the anticipated high erosion rate due to the logging activity and forest clearing in the area, leading to deterioration in river water quality. “The Kelah fish population found in rivers there will undeniably decrease,” he said. Kelah has high conservation and commercial values.
The DEIA report also states that the deterioration in river water quality in Sungai Tembat and Sungai Terengganu Mati will affect eco-tourism and that high soil erosion and sedimentation will affect fish biodiversity and spawning grounds.
Dato’ Dionysius further stated that logging in a dam catchment forest will increase siltation and could reduce the dam lifetime in the long run, even if logging was only carried out during the construction stage of the dam. “This is because forests take many years to regenerate and fully resume their ecosystem function as water catchment and for soil protection,” he said.
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