Leave Sabak Bernam peat swamp forest alone, NGOs tell Selangor

A LOOSE coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) urged the Selangor state government to stop the clearance of 2,400 acres of peat swamp forest in Sabak Bernam by the Selangor State Agriculture Corporation (PKPS), saying it would create untold damage to the ecology.

“PKPS is planning to clear and drain the peat swamp forest, which is a critical habitat for rare wildlife and fish species found nowhere else on the planet.

“And we’re appalled that logging and clearance of the forest in already underway, despite not having an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report done,” the Coalition for the Protection of Selangor Forests said, in a statement.

An EIA is mandatory for all projects involving clearing and draining more than 20ha of peat swamp forest for agriculture or other uses.

It was said that PKPS had earlier planned to develop the site for an oil palm project but ditched it after being told that the national policy does not allow development of oil palm on peatland or forest areas.

Touching on the matter, the NGO said that PKPS has “repackaged” the project as the Selangor Smart Agro Park (SSAP), with a palm oil mill being built.

“However, they will plan coconut palms to exploit a loophole in the national policy. Nevertheless, conversion of intact peat swamp forest into agriculture is not in line with Government policy to conserve all the remaining intact peat swamp forests.

“It is also not in line with our National Action Plan on Peatland (2011-2020) or National Biodiversity Policy (2016-2025). Continuing the development of a palm oil mill and agriculture will jeopardise the reputation of Malaysian palm oil and other agricultural industries,” it stressed.

On the site, the NGO stated has several unique features, among them:

  • Dominated by trees with a diameter of more than 20-30 cm, as well as large trees with a diameter of more than 50cm such as Macarangga pruinose, Cinnamomum spp (Medang), Shorea uliginosa (Meranti bakau), Cratoxylum spp (Geronggang) and Palaquium spp(Nyatoh) – most of which are peat swamp species with restricted distribution.
  • Home of many rare mammals including Panther [Panthera pardus (V)], Sunbear [Helarctos malayanus (V)], Tapir [Tapirus indicus (EN)].
  • A key habitat for hornbills and many other endangered bird species which are breeding residents, including endangered species.
  • Home to various endangered species of blackwater fish (with some found nowhere else in the world) such as Encheloclarias curtisoma (EN), Betta hipposideros (EN), Betta livida (EN), Parosphromenus harveyi (EN)], Parakysis verruscosus (V), Bihunichthys monopteroides (V), Clarias microcephalus (NT) and Trichopodus leerii (NT).

The area had also been designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) under the National Physical Plan 3 (2016-2020). In addition, the area is specified for protection under the Selangor State Structure Plan 2035.

“Draining the swamp there will lead to peat subsidence, which will also increase the flood risk along the Tanjung Malim to Sabak Bernam road and in the adjacent oil palm estates of PKPS.

“It will also lead to significant increase in peatland fire risks and degradation of the adjacent Sungai Karang Forest Reserve, another ESA,” it remarked.

Speaking to FocusM, a spokesperson from the coalition dismissed PKPS’ assertion that an EIA is not needed because the land has been marked as agriculture land.

“Yes, they may have the land title but an EIA is needed so that we can see the effects on the project on the peat swamp land and how to mitigate it.

‘If you continue with the project, the wildlife there will move to town areas, creating conflict between people and animals,” the spokesperson said.

The coalition had since sent letters to the DOE and PKPS for further deliberation, urging the Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari to intervene on the matter.

“I remember the Selangor state assembly remarked that they would gazette all remaining pristine forest areas in the state as protected areas. So, I hope Amirudin acts accordingly,” the spokesperson said. – April 6, 2021.

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