KUALAL LUMPUR (April 17):The Coalition for the Protection of Selangor’s Forests has reminded the Selangor government that the fate of the planned degazettement of the Kuala Langat (North) Forest Reserve (KLNFR) remains uncertain, and they have urged that development plans for the irreplaceable habitat be abandoned, Malaysiakini reported today.

"As the country is mired in the Covid-19 crisis, the situation of the KLFNR remains unknown. The current movement control order (MCO) has made it impossible to have any proper assessment of impacts or dialogue on the proposed degazettement," said the group in a statement today.

Malaysiakini said the coalition, a group of seven environmental and social NGOs, emphasised its disagreement with the justification provided by the Selangor state government that the land is being developed because it is “fire-prone”.

Leela Panikkar, director of Treat Every Environment Special and coordinator of the coalition, said the MCO's extension to April 28 has made it impossible to undertake any detailed environmental and social impact assessment as it will involve site visits and consultation with all related stakeholders.

"Local communities are still unaware of the proposed project.

"The Selangor state government until now has not provided any explanation of how the proposed development will benefit the indigenous people living near KLNFR and other stakeholders. This needs to be formally clarified publicly to all stakeholders,” she told Malaysiakini.

News of plans to degazette the 930ha forest reserve broke when the Selangor Forestry Department placed a notice in major dailies on Feb 5 inviting stakeholders in the district to voice their objections within a 30-day time frame.

This was in accordance with the Public Inquiry (Selangor) Rules 2014 as well as the National Forestry Act (Adoption) Enactment 1985 which makes the exercise (placement of notice) compulsory before a forest reserve can be degazetted.

One of the reasons given to degazette the forest reserve was to make way for the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL).

However, the project's developer Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd (MRL) said rather than a degazettement, it planned to apply for permission to allow it to use only a small portion of the protected forest.

According to Malaysiakini, among those who have voiced their opposition to the degazettement plan were several affected Orang Asli communities, the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), the Global Environment Centre (GEC) and former Ministers P Waythamoorthy and Dr Xavier Jayakumar, who is also Kuala Langat MP.

The Coalition collected no less than 43,502 objections from the public and local residents of Kuala Langat district in just 20 days and presented them to the state government on March 4.

GEC director Faizal Parish said today: “A mixed development project is not the solution to solving the issues of fire-prone forests in Selangor. A peat swamp forest in its natural condition is wet, with high water tables. Fire only occurs when the ecosystem has been disrupted by human activities.

"The Friends of Kuala Langat North Peat Swamp Forest, comprising Orang Asli communities living near the forest, have been working with the Selangor Forestry Department and other organisations in carrying out rehabilitation and conservation activities of the area since 2015.

"They have planted more than 10,000 trees, blocked drainage canals and supported natural forest regeneration as well as undertaking the fire patrolling and monitoring works.

As a result, more than 300ha of the degraded forest area within the forest reserve, which was affected by the earlier fires, is now recovering well," he told Malaysiakini.

Dr Ahmad Ismail, president of the Malaysian Nature Society further added that the forest reserve was home to rare, endemic and endangered species of flora and fauna. It is also critical to the culture and tradition of the Temuan Orang Asli that have lived in the area for hundreds of years with the earliest photographic documentation found in 1886.

"Besides being home to a broad range of species, KLNFR plays an important role in mitigating climate change. It has the capacity to store carbon up to 1,600 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

"The total carbon stock of KLNFR is approximately 1.5 million tonnes of carbon. An estimated 5.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions can also be avoided if the KLNFR is not developed and maintained as a Permanent Reserved Forest." he added.

According to Malaysiakini, Selangor Chief Minister Amirudin Shari during the State Legislative Assembly sitting on March 17 said the Selangor government hopes to receive a premium of up to RM323 million (or RM3.2/square foot) if KLNFR development project goes ahead.

“The Coalition is puzzled as to why the state government would plan to destroy its heritage just for such a small amount of money”, said Meena Raman of Sahabat Alam Malaysia.

“If the state government is concerned about monetary resources, there are international funds available for keeping peat forests intact such as from the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility.

"Such international funds are available to all developing countries who protect forests for biodiversity preservation and to curb climate change. The state should be exploring these approaches, which will benefit the public for generations to come," she added.

Malaysiakini said Amirudin has yet to make it clear what the land was supposed to be used for but a report by Singapore's Straits Times suggested that a member of royalty is among the possible developers of the land.

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