Sabah, a state in Malaysian Borneo, has reclassified 183,000 hectares (700 sq km) of forest zoned for logging concessions as protected areas.
The Sabah Forestry Department recently re-gazetted Ulu Segama Forest Reserve and Northern Gunung Rara — formerly Class 2 commercial forests — as Class 1 protection forests, effectively protecting them from further logging or conversion to plantations.
The reserves border the Danum Valley conservation area, which is world-renown for its research facilities and high levels of biodiversity. Although the area has been selectively logged, it remains key habitat for endangered orangutans, Bornean clouded leopards, Sumatran rhinos, and pygmy elephants, according to conservationists.
“This re-gazettement will serve to secure habitat for Malaysia’s largest orang-utan population, as well as for a wide range of biological diversity,” Marc Ancrenaz, scientific director of Hutan-Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme, said in a statement.
“The main merit of this plan is to make it more difficult for any governments in the future to convert the lowland parts of these Forest Reserves to oil palm plantation,” added Junaidi Payne of Borneo Rhino Alliance.
The move boosts Sabah's protected areas to 1.3 million hectares, about 18 percent of its total land area. Oil palm plantations, a major driver of forest conversion in Sabah since the mid-1980s, cover about 1.4 million hectares across the state.
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