Forests in Selangor under threat

by Gan Pei Ling / 21 February 2011 © The Nut Graph

THERE was much cause for celebration when Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman announced on 16 Feb 2011 that the plan to build a 30 megawatt coal plant in the state’s pristine east coast had been scrapped.

Instead, the government is now considering gas and other cleaner energy options like biomass. Activists, particularly those from environmental coalition Green Surf, ought to be commended for their tireless campaign, since 2007, against the proposed coal plant.

Postcard protesting the coal plant (© Postcards to PM)

I wish the same were happening for the forests in Selangor. The state has been delaying its decision on a proposal to convert the Kuala Langat South peat swamp forest to an oil palm plantation. Additionally, the federal government has been turning a deaf ear to civil societies’ opposition against the Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road.

Indecisive Selangor

It was in late 2010 that the Selangor Agriculture Development Corporation proposed to develop the 7,000ha Kuala Langat South forest reserve into oil palm estate. The clearing of the forest could potentially generate RM1bil in timber revenue.

Map of Selangor State Park, with permission from Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES).

It is troubling that the Pakatan Rakyat-led state did not reject the proposal immediately. After all, it announced that it would impose a 25-year moratorium on logging when it came into power in 2008.

To the Selangor government’s credit, however, it did commission an audit in December 2010 to assess the forest’s biodiversity value. In addition, it has engaged environmental non-governmental organisations as well as government agencies in its biodiversity audit.

The audit report was expected to be presented to the state in January 2011 but it was postponed to early February. To date, the Selangor government has yet to make an official announcement on the matter.

When asked by reporters recently if a decision was made at the Selangor Economic Action Council’s meeting, executive councillor Elizabeth Wong, who is in charge of the environment portfolio, skirted the issue.

Granted, commissioning an audit to assess a forest’s biodiversity value before clearing it for plantation or other development purposes would be unimaginable under previous state administrations. But the state’s current indecision on the Kuala Langat South forest reserve also seriously raises doubt about whether the state might revoke the status of other forest reserves when there is further pressure for development.

It should be noted that the Kuala Langat South forest reserve can be deemed as the most important peat swamp left in southern Selangor as almost all others have been lost to development.

Putrajaya’s silence

Another lingering threat to Selangor’s forest reserves is the KL Outer Ring Road which would cut through the ecologically-fragile Selangor State Park.

A federal government project, the highway is being proposed to ease traffic congestion on the Middle Ring Road Two. Construction near the Kanching Forest Reserve has already begun but the road alignment that would slice through the Selangor State Park has yet to be confirmed.

Photo of Klang Gates Dam at dawn in 2010 (by Gan Pei Ling)

Gazetted in 2005, the 108,300ha park is an important water catchment area for the Klang Gates Dam and Ampang Intake. Ironically, Putrajaya and Selangor have been wrestling over the construction of the Langat 2 plant to source water from Pahang to avoid potential “water shortage” in the state. Yet, little attention has been given to the highway’s potential impact on Selangor’s water supply.

To date, the federal government has yet to respond to civil societies’ objections against the KL Outer Ring Road.  The Selangor government has said it is not within its power to scrap the highway.

An election issue?

Compared to the proposed coal plant in Sabah, which has been going on for a few years and also attracted international attention, the threats to the Kuala Langat South forest reserve and the Selangor State Park have received much less media attention.

However, if there are some lessons to be learnt from the anti-coal activists, it’s that with persistence and a persuasive campaign strategy, governments may be compelled to listen to civil society after all.

In the end, the people are the boss in a democracy and if the government-of-the-day wants to be re-elected, it had better learn to listen to the people — not just wealthy developers, but environmental groups and concerned citizens, too.

Growing up in the Klang Valley, Gan Pei Ling didn’t know until recently that around 30% of land in Selangor is still forest reserves. She hopes most, if not all, of these reserves will still be around in 2050. Would that be too much to ask?

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