KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 ― Selangor Mentri Besar Amirudin Shari has defended the Selangor state government’s controversial proposal to degazette the Kuala Langat (North) forest reserve, claiming it is necessary to prevent future forest fires.

In a media briefing yesterday reported by Malaysiakini, Amirudin said 40 per cent of the forest has already been “degraded” due to fires and have now become a fire hazard.

“40 per cent of the area has become hutan rosot (degraded forests) due to fires and damage, and the area no longer has elements of the virgin forest it used to be,” Amirudin was quoted saying by Malaysiakini.

“Therefore we want to change this area to make it more appropriate with its surrounding areas. In front of it, we will have a Selangor Business Capital development by the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS). The development next to it (Gamuda Cove) is owned by Gamuda.

“This [proposal] is also to prevent forest fires, a problem that threatened the ecosystem here a while ago,” he added.

He also pledged that Selangor will replace the degazetted forests with a “bigger area of forest” of “better quality” at more than 1,092 ha compared to the 930.93 ha that it wants to degazette.

Malaysiakini reported this included a 308.62ha plot in Sungai Panjang (Sabak Bernam), a second 606.88ha plot in the same area, and a 190.28ha plot in Buloh Telor (Ampang Pecah).

In his explanation, Amirudin also said the move will also benefit other developments around the area and to stimulate the economies and industries in the East Coast states, especially as the planned East Coast Rail Link route (ECRL) will go around the forest reserve.

“I feel that this degazettement is also being done to give way to the ECRL, which I calculate will stimulate new economies and galvanise new industries on the east coast (of Peninsula Malaysia) as well as Selangor,” he reportedly said.

The Selangor state’s proposal to develop 930.93 acres of the 958 acre forest reserve was met with stern opposition from the Orang Asli community who resides near the reserve, and environmentalists.

Amirudin brushed off their concerns, claiming that the Orang Asli settlements and roaming areas will not be affected as the development will happen “far away” from them and almost 404.69ha of the forest reserve will remain untouched for this.

Despite that, he conceded that it may affect the Temuan Orang Asli graves.

“We will try to not degazette areas where the graves are, but this can only be done at the right time ― after the appeals process,” he was quoted saying.

A highly-placed source with the government lamented that the move to degazette KLFNR would also affect Malaysia’s reforestation efforts, when an application is made for conservation funding via international channels.

“If Malaysia were to apply for financing from foreign countries for reforestation, they can easily turn back to us and ask us; ‘You are unable to save your own forests and yet you’re asking for funding?’.

“It would look so bad on us,” said the source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The source added that Dr Xavier too is in a catch-22 situation, as land matters is the prerogative of the state, while he is the Kuala Langat MP.

The source added that upon the end of the 30-day objection period, a town hall session will be chaired by Hee Loy Sian, the Selangor Environment, Green Technology, Science, Technology and Innovation and Consumer Affairs committee chairman.

The programme is set to take place in Banting by end of March.

“We really need the media to highlight this matter. There are many unique species of flora and fauna in that forest,” the source said.