KUCHING, Feb 3 — Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem announced today a cut in the number of licenses for timber and land clearing activities that are rapidly decimating one of the world’s oldest rainforests.
In a major step, he said the state government is cutting down by more than half the current 155 occupation ticket (OT) licences given for the clearing of land for plantations.
“The licence holders are using their OTs to steal timber from national parks, mangrove forests and permanent forest reserves,” he told reporters here.
Since succeeding Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud on February 28 last year, the 71-year-old has declared war on illegal loggers who have cost Malaysia’s largest state billions of ringgit. Adenan said he is also reducing the number of licences for timber extraction from state land, mangrove forests and permanent forest reserves.
“There are about 570 of such licences being issued by the government before and I am going to reduce it by more than 50 per cent as well,” he added.
As part of his crackdown, Adenan handed over 50 automatic firearms and 20 four-wheel drives to the Forestry Department on January 2.
He said he has also ordered the Forestry Department to use drones to keep an eye on illegal logging activities, especially in the national parks and permanent forest reserves.
Sarawak has 22 national parks, the highest in the country, though some are marine-based.
“I have told them that they go all out against illegal loggings because these loggers are felling our trees for logs,” said Adenan, who is also state minister of resource planning and environment.
He also promised to recruit more enforcement personnel should the department need more manpower even as he conceded that some of the forestry officers were “working hand-in-glove with illegal loggers and timber licence holders”.
“Otherwise, how do you explain the widespread illegal activities right under their noses,” he said.
He said the state government however, has been successful in its drive against illegal logging due to public support and cooperation.
Last year, the Forestry Department carried out 210 raids and seized a total of 82,327 cubic metres of logs worth RM41 million, an increase of 634 per cent compared to 2013 when officials claimed 11,216 cubic metres of logs worth RM5.6 million.
Malaysia’s rate of rainforest loss is reportedly the highest in the world with some groups claiming over 80 per cent has been stripped away.
According to environmentalist website mongabay.com, the size of denuded rainforest cover is bigger than the size of Denmark at a whopping 47,278 sq km, while oil palm estates expanded 17,000 sq km, or 50 per cent, from 2009 to 2011.
In 2011, mongabay.com reported Swiss environmental group Bruno Manser Fund as saying that satellite imagery shows that less than 10 per cent, possibly even less than 5 per cent, of Sarawak’s forests are still intact.
The claim however has been challenged by Adenan’s predecessor, Abdul Taib, who insisted that Sarawak’s rainforest cover stood at 70 per cent.