Enforcement key to protecting forests

PETALING JAYA: While the promise of cash could entice states into taking greater care of forests, strict enforcement is key to nature conservation.

Environmentalists differ in their views on the federal government’s decision to pay state authorities to reduce or stop deforestation.

Many are on the same page on tightening regulations to curb illegal logging, which they say is the crux of the problem.

Environmental non-govermental organisation EcoKnights vice-president Amlir Ayat said paying state governments could help to minimise logging activities, but it would not necessarily mitigate it.

“Federal financial assistance or compensation can help to reduce the state’s dependence on logging as a source of revenue. However, it will not prevent illegal logging,” he told theSun.

Meanwhile, Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia chief executive officer Andrew J. Sebastian said money could make a difference, so long as state authorities do not go back on their promises.

They were commenting on an announcement by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob that the federal government would pay states to maintain forest reserves as water catchment areas and protect them from illegal logging activities.

When making the announcement on Monday, Ismail Sabri said a formula to determine the quantum of compensation would be decided by the relevant ministries after a study is conducted.

Rather than wait to get paid, Amlir said states should explore ways to improve their economy through activities apart from logging.

“Deforestation is a way to get cash instantly, but it also destroys the quality of life for the people,” he said.

“Chopping down trees (for financial gain) should be the last resort.”

Logging is a big money spinner. According to market and consumer data provider Statista, timber accounted for RM6.38 billion of gross domestic product in 2019.

Transparency International estimates the equivalent of about 5% of total revenue derived from forest products each year is lost to illegal logging.

Amlir said there are other ways to preserve the environment.

“The government could do more to improve monitoring and have more committed and credible enforcement teams on the ground. Critical forested and wildlife areas should be gazetted.”

He added that such measures should also apply to the management of other natural resources, such as water.

Amlir said children should understand the need for conservation of the forest and this can be done by reviewing the education system, with a view to nurturing more sustainability-conscious citizens for the future.

“There should be more awareness and educational programmes for the people to enable them to make wise decisions, such as adopting a lifestyle based on sustainability, especially on the issue of consumption,” he said, adding that this includes water, energy and forest products.

Sebastian said the idea for the federal government to help defray losses from reduced logging activities was mooted years ago.

He believes the move would help to protect forests “if the states do not quietly sneak out and de-gazette some of the forested areas for agriculture”.

“Apart from that, areas that have already been gazetted as forest reserves or permanent forest reserves should be reclassified as fully protected areas. This should help curb illegal logging as well as other conflicting activities.”

He said while states have authority over land use and environmental protection, it is wise for the federal government to intervene, given that deforestation has become a crucial global issue.

“Mining and agricultural activities also harm forests,” he pointed out, adding that the government should monitor such activities to ensure natural forest cover is protected.

Source: Einnews

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