Friday, February 03, 2006

Measures by Sabah Govt to reverse Orang-utan decline

Kota Kinabalu: The State Government said it has put in place vital realistic strategies that will ensure the sanctity of Sabah's bio-diversity, including its Orang-utans.

Nevertheless, the participation of all concerned is sought to accelerate the implementation of these strategies.

In this regard, Sabah Forestry Director Datuk Sam Mannan said the Government appreciates the efforts of NGOs, communities and scientists such as Dr Benoit Goossens, in increasing awareness on conserving the bio-diversity of Sabah, and to come up with new scientific information.

He said this in response to a Daily Express report quoting Dr Goossens of Cardiff University that the Orang-utans in Sabah and elsewhere in the world faced a catastrophic collapse in numbers.

Goossens based this on the almost 100 per cent decline within a century of the Orang-utan population in Sabah. It was estimated that Sabah had 500,000 Orang-utans 100 years ago but a wildlife survey three years ago found the figure to be down to just about 13,000 now.

The Government of Sabah acknowledges that the Orang-utan is a "flagship" species and the State has benefited immensely by conserving it, Mannan said.

To ensure that the ape population is sustainable and would continue to exist in perpetuity, the following policy, operational and strategic measures have been taken and would continue to be implemented:

* Sabah's Sustainable Forest Management Policy (SFM) which is the cornerstone of the State's forest policy;

* The Security of Tenure of Forest Reserves and Other Conservation Areas in Sabah;

* The Natural Forest Management (NFM) which is the cornerstone of the State's forest management; close collaboration with the NGOs, international agencies and research organisations which is a culture for successful environmental management;

* Forest restorations and forest plantations outside reserves in Sabah; and

* The sanctity of totally protected areas rich in Orang-utans.

Sabah's Sustainable Forest Management Policy - This is the cornerstone of the State's forest policy. Based on experience derived over (17) years from Deramakot Forest Reserve, an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified forest, it is proven that Orang-utans, even with logging as a component of the operations, can survive and thrive under SFM.

After 10 years of logging under RIL (Reduced Impact Logging), the Orang-utan population in Deramakot remains stable at around 900-1,000 individuals or 1.64 per square km.

Following the success of Deramakot, the Government allocated more areas to be managed under the same concept including FMU 17 (73,770ha.), FMU 25 (127,625ha.) and FMU 10 (75,000ha.).

This direct management by the Government through the Forestry Department, of these areas, encompassing in excess of RM75 million of funding under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, is over and in excess of the efforts of FMU/SFMLA Licencees, who have another two million hectares to manage under their own long-term licences.

A very important area that would be certified soon under the FSC system is FMUs 15 and 16, covering 190,000ha of natural forests in the central of Sabah, under the management of Yayasan Sabah.

It is the vision of the Government to have not less than 320,000ha of forests certified by the end of the 9MP or six times Deramakot, which would entrench Sabah's leadership in SFM in the region.

Security of Tenure of Forest Reserves and other conservation areas in Sabah - the existing forest reserves, parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the State, covering 3,869,685ha or in excess of 53% of the total land area, cannot be excised unless through legislation, which has been in effect since 1984.

This legal protection ensures that security of tenure is enhanced and excision as a consequence, has been very rare since then, and covering not more than 5,000ha over the last 22 years. Even then, such excisions must be replaced.

Mannan said this security of tenure protects wildlife, including Orang-utans from the loss of habitats.

Natural Forest Management (NFM) - although degraded forests, if approved in the specific forest management plants in a given area in the commercial (Class 2) forest reserves, may be converted into tree plantations, this is restricted to not more than 15-20%.

Even then, this is further restricted by EIA conditions, slope limits, wildlife corridors, riparian reserves etc.

NFM - this is a matter of policy as it is proven that to maintain bio-diversity including Orang-utans, natural forest management is vital.

Further, through years of research and experience, Sabah has now come up with a hybrid strategy called "forest restoration" whereby multiple indigeneous fast growing species are planted in degraded forests more extensively which serves the dual purpose of high production and high bio-diversity.

This reduces the perception of mono-cultures in tree plantations, besides providing a better environment for wildlife.

Close Collaboration with NGOs, international agencies and research oganisations - This has always been the policy of the State Government to be transparent in implementing its forest policies whereby, the participation of multi-stakeholders and NGOs are welcomed.

As a consequence, the formulation of forest policies and strategies have benefited from these inputs including those from WWF, Hutan (French NGO), the Sabah Society, JICA of Japan, UNDP and tour agencies, among others.

As an example, the method of wildlife assessments and surveys in Deramakot was derived with assistance from Hutan, the identification of HCVFS (High Conservation Value Forests) with help from WWF and pre-assessments in FMU 17 & 25 for certification, conducted by a third party auditor and funded by WWF.

This close collaboration has assisted in improving, among others, wildlife conservation, including Orang-utans, in forests already certified or in the process of certification. These efforts shall continue as a matter of policy.

Forest Restorations and Forest Plantations Outside Reserve in Sabah - this is another strategy adopted by the State Government with the co-operation of landowners, especially in vital eco-systems such as the Lower Kinabatangan.

In particular, riparian reserves are being restored with indigenous species endemic to such environments. Such efforts are made in close collaboration with estate owners, communities, NGOs and various government agencies.

The State Government has also allocated lands outside reserves for tree plantations, to increase the stock of forests and standing trees. This pioneering work, which has gained momentum, restores degraded environments which will benefit wildlife especially in re-connecting "forest islands" for gene-pool exchanges among others.

The Sanctity of Totally Protected Areas Rich in Orang-utans - these are Tabin Wildlife Forest Reserve (120,000ha), Maliau Basin Forest Reserve (58,840ha), Danum Valley Forest Reserve (43,000ha) which enjoy inviolate legislative protection.

Apart from the habitats in other forest reserves, these three areas are vital gene pool reserves for Orang-utans, among others. Their buffer zones, especially for Danum and Maliau, are being expanded to ensure better protection.

Source: Daily Express

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