Save the Belum Temengor Forest Complex
In April 2006, MNS (BirdLife in Malaysia) launched a campaign to save the Belum Temengor Forest Complex. The campaign aims to educate the public about the issues involved and to encourage the State and Federal governments to protect this critical area. Ideally, this would entail an end to all logging, as well as permanent protection of both forest reserves. It is hoped that with increased public awareness and proactive action from the government, Malaysian signature species, including majestic hornbills, elephants, tigers and tapirs, can remain alive in the wild rather than as stuffed museum specimens.
Taman Negara is Malaysia's prime National Park spanning Terengganu, Kelantan and Pahang. The Park covers 4,343 square kilometres, but doesn't cover all vegetation types or species. With global climate change and the realisation that tropical rainforests can indeed be destroyed by fire, such an event is not as unlikely as it might have seemed a decade ago.
The last extensive area that would make a huge difference to conservation is in northern Perak: two forest reserves known as Belum-Temengor. Covering about 3,000 square kilometres, more than three times the size of Singapore, they are a huge swathe of natural forest landscape that is a significant part of Malaysia's national heritage. To protect this last frontier has become the objective of the Malaysian Nature Society and a coalition of NGOs that believe there is now a unique chance to secure a major legacy for the nation.
Royal Belum was declared a protected area in 2000. The legislation to create a park was enacted and a State corporation established for its management. Although it is yet to be gazetted as a permanent protected area, MNS is optimistic that this will happen soon. Unfortunately the same does not apply to Temengor where logging is on-going and the extent of future logging unknown. Some of this is being done with conservation in mind, particularly within the Perak Integrated Timber Complex (PITC), that has been recognised by the international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for its sustainable logging practices. Other concessionaires are less concerned about sustainability; logging roads on steep slopes and adjacent to the lake shore or salt licks are extremely damaging, in addition to the impact of actual timber removal.
However, perhaps the most harmful project planned for the Belum Temengor Forest Complex is a proposed plantation of acacia species along the corridor adjacent to the East West Highway. From an ecological point of view such land clearance would effectively fragment the Complex into North and South - a case of arrested succession which would lead to the genetic isolation of most species. The clearance and subsequent plantation would also lead to more human wildlife conflict as the existing migratory patterns of large mammals (such as elephants) would be disrupted.
Acacia is a particularly undesirable introduced genera as it readily colonises open spaces and prevents indigenous forest species from naturally reclaiming land that has been opened up by logging. Few animals or birds can live in an acacia plantation, making it a prohibitive barrier for the wildlife that has traversed the area for millennia. This corridor may be up to six kilometres deep, a visual blight on the landscape, and a death knell for local biodiversity.
The State government has announced it will phase out logging in Temengor once other economic activities such as eco-tourism start to generate revenue and alternative employment for the State. MNS points out that sustainable tourism needs undisturbed habitat to be successful, particularly in protecting the huge flocks of hornbills that are seen flying between both Belum and Temengor. MNS undertook a study to track the birds and learn more of their habits, but there is still much to determine. The hypothesis that they nest in Belum and feed in Temengor for a significant part of the year means that without protecting both areas, the birds will not survive in the numbers that have caused great excitement amongst birders. The hornbills are the greatest eco-tourism asset of Belum Temengor, and logging seems already to have had an impact on their numbers.
The second asset for eco-tourism in Belum Temengor is the potential of the East West Highway corridor. Elephants can be seen almost any day, browsing amongst the vegetation along the highway. Since the verges have been opened up to light, elephants have been attracted to the herbaceous growth that has flourished there. Instead of planting acacias, this corridor could be 'farmed' for elephants and tourists: the former coming for food, the latter for the wildlife experience of a lifetime - seeing large wild animals in their natural habitat.
The MNS Campaign to save Belum Temengor is aimed at educating the public about the issues involved and to encourage the State and Federal governments to protect this critical area. MNS is calling for an end to all logging in Belum Temengor and that both forest reserves are permanently protected. The Federal Government must support the states financially if they are to protect their remaining forests as called for in the National Physical Plan, a project that the Prime Minister personally chaired. As the NPP inherently recognises, intact forests are worth far more than the relatively small amounts that logging generates for government, the timber industry and employment.