By Wicky Lau
Can a forest decimated in the name of development be recreated? The valuable timber has gone, perhaps used as furniture in a faraway land; the government has collected its revenue; and only barren land remains on the foothill of Kledang Saiong Forest, Bukit Kinta in Ipoh.
It now remains as a standing monument of environmental destruction and wanton deforestation of massive proportions, but there are massive plans for a turnaround.
With all vegetation gone, how can the situation be remedied? Can it be physically done? If there’s a will, there’s a way. The Perak State Development Corporation (Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Perak, PKNP) has undertaken to correct the wrongs of the past and make use of the mistakes for common good.
In the past, some government officials felt it would be a good source of revenue and re-gazetted the forest reserve and allowed logging – leaving a barren land stretching across 160 hectares.
But its recently-appointed PKNP Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mohd Ariff bin Yeop Ishak has different plans. He has sought assistance from the state government and the Forestry Department to re-gazette the two plots which had been cleared two years ago, as a Permanent Forest Reserve.
He hopes that a re-planting exercise can be carried out on both parcels of land with critical and rare species for the next generation.
He said PKNP will work with experts and NGOs for the replanting and preservation of the re-gazetted forest reserve by planting and naming the trees, as well as educating the next generation on environmental issues.
If it works, it will be developed as an eco-tourism attraction, and Mohd Ariff is steadfast that the area will remain a forest and no physical development will be allowed.
“We may have ecotourism but no physical infrastructure will be built inside the forest. All hostels and infra will be built on the foothills, but not inside the forest. I don’t want to have any disturbance to the trees.”
He said that the decision of clearing was made by the previous government and management of PKNP and their intentions may have been good at that time.
“Their intention was to clear the area to relocate illegal farmers around Silver Valley Technology Park (SVTP), which was previously called ‘Perak Hi Tech Park’.”
He added that an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report and research from the Agriculture Department were conducted, and since there were no objections, the deforestation went ahead.
“Actually, I was a town planner and when we do something at a certain elevation of the hillslopes, the structure will move. Even if the law or policy states that you can do this at a particular degree, you have to spend high costs for maintenance and may have to take risks. It’s not worth it,” he said.
The plan is to re-gazette the barren land first and then start the replanting exercise with rare species of trees. This, Mohd Ariff said, can be done using the revenue which the government receives from the timber from the initial de-gazetting.
The money from the logging will primarily be used to reallocate the farmer quarters from the SVTP area to alternative areas. There are about 120 farmers who have agreed to be moved to Changkat Kinding, and it will be done in phases. Negotiations with others are in progress.
Mohd Ariff said that after the farmers are moved out, the land they have occupied will be part of the technology park, which will be home to mixed-development projects.
The two parcels of land near the Taman Chepor Sentosa housing estate were cleared in 2019 and residents expressed concerns for their safety.
Earthwork stopped since March 2020 due to the Movement Control Order (MCO) but although there is no logging, residents are concerned with issues such as the risk of landslides or muddy floods in the future, as the bare earth remains unvegetated.
This article was written as part of the Kiniacademy Investigative Journalism programme. For more on this story, watch the video at https://fijiasia.com/2021/06/09/preserving-the-reserves-the-land-gazetting-of-the-perak-forest-reserves/