Forest CoverTotal forest area: 20,890,000 ha % of land area: 63.6%
Primary forest cover: 3,820,000 ha % of land area: 11.6% % total forest area: 18.3%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005Annual change in forest cover: -140,200 ha Annual deforestation rate: -0.7% Change in defor. rate since '90s: 85.1% Total forest loss since 1990: -1,486,000 ha Total forest loss since 1990:-6.6%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests Annual loss of primary forests: n/a Annual deforestation rate: n/a Change in deforestation rate since '90s: n/a Primary forest loss since 1990: n/a Primary forest loss since 1990:0.0%
Forest ClassificationPublic: 93.4% Private: 6.6% Other: 0% Use Production: 56.6% Protection: 18.2% Conservation: 5.4% Social services: n/a Multiple purpose: 19.8% None or unknown: n/a
Forest Area BreakdownTotal area: 20,890,000 ha Primary: 3,820,000 ha Modified natural: n/a Semi-natural: 15,497,000 ha Production plantation: 1,573,000 ha Production plantation: n/a
PlantationsPlantations, 2005: 1,573,000 ha % of total forest cover: 7.5% Annual change rate (00-05): -17,200,000 ha
Carbon storageAbove-ground biomass: 5,661 M t Below-ground biomass: 1,359 M t
Area annually affected byFire: 1,000 ha Insects: n/a Diseases: n/a
Number of tree species in IUCN red listNumber of native tree species: 2,650 Critically endangered: 50 Endangered: 99 Vulnerable: 403
Malaysia's deforestation rate is accelerating faster than that of any other tropical country in the world, according to data from the United Nations. Analysis of figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shows that Malaysia's annual deforestation rate jumped almost 86 percent between the 1990-2000 period and 2000-2005. In total, Malaysia lost an average of 140,200 hectares—0.65 percent of its forest area—per year since 2000. For comparison, the Southeast Asian country lost an average of 78,500 hectares, or 0.35 percent of its forests, annually during the 1990s.
The Malaysian government failed to provide FAO with figures showing the change in extent of primary forests during the period. Primary forests—forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities—are considered the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet.
Declining forest cover in Malaysia results primarily from urbanization, agricultural fires, and forest conversion for oil-palm plantations and other forms of agriculture. Logging, which is generally excluded in deforestation figures from FAO, is responsible for widespread forest degradation in the country, and green groups have blamed local timber companies for failing to practice sustainable forest management. In late 2005—despite photographic evidence suggesting otherwise—the Samling Group denied claims from NGOs accusing the timber giant of recklessly harvesting timber in one of its Sarawak concessions on the island of Borneo.
Forest cover has fallen dramatically in Malaysia since the 1970s. While FAO says that forests still cover more than 60 percent of the country, only 11.6 percent of these forests are considered pristine.
During the 1980s, rampant logging in the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak allowed Malaysia to temporarily outpace Indonesia and become the world's largest exporter of tropical wood.
On paper, Malaysia has probably one of the best rainforest protection policies in developing Asia, but in practice logging still carries on as it always has. The majority of Malaysia's remaining forests are managed for timber production, and each state is empowered to formulate forest policy independently. During the past two decades, sustainable forest management has been non-existent. While Malaysia has the policy framework for sustainable forest management in the form of the National Forestry Act of 1984, it has failed to enforce the legislation.
Peninsular Malaysia's primary forests are mostly gone, though some magnificent forest still exists in Taman Negara, a national park. Scientists believe that at 130 million years old, the rainforests of Taman Negara are the oldest in the world.
Most of Malaysia's remaining primary forest exists on the island of Borneo in the states of Sabah and Sarawak, but the majority of the forest area in Malaysian Borneo—especially the lowlands—has been selectively logged, resulting in reduced biodiversity. Loggers are now operating in more marginal areas on rugged mountain slopes, which increases the risk of soil erosion and mudslides. In Sabah (Northeastern Borneo), cutting has slowed over the years after a period of rapid deforestation. Timber production appears to have shifted to Sarawak (Northwestern Borneo), where about half the forest cover is slated for logging. About 8 percent of the land area in Sarawak is designated as reserves, but these protected areas are generally understaffed and threatened by illegal logging and encroachment by colonists who settle along logging roads.
In the 1980s, through roadblocks and sabotage of logging equipment, the indigenous Penan of Borneo attempted to stop logging in their traditional homeland. Their protests were ruthlessly and savagely put down by the Malaysian government, which blocked media access to the region until the unrest was settled and the forest dwellers cleared. The attacks on the Penan brought international attention to the logging of Borneo's forests but appear to have had relatively little long-term impact, since logging increased dramatically in the following years.
Decades of mining in peninsular Malaysia have left a heavy mark on the environment. Deforestation, pollution of rivers, and siltation have resulted in agricultural losses, and road projects have opened new areas to colonization.
Despite the government's pro-environment overtones, the heavy-handed Malaysian government tends to side with development more than conservation. As of 2004, no court had ever ruled favorably in a major case on behalf of the native forest peoples displaced by rainforest destruction. In the 1990s, the government overturned a High Court decision that would have prevented Bakun dam, a huge hydroelectric project that would flood 170,000 acres (69,000 hectares) of forest. The $2-billion-dollar project has since been plagued with cost overruns and delays. It now appears that the dam—scheduled for completion in 2003—will only be expected to begin generating electricity in late 2009. Further, the local Sarawak market has no need for the power, and undersea transmission lines that would have connected the dam to peninsular Malaysia will not even be laid. Some local commentators say the only purpose behind the project was to benefit Sarawak politicians and their cronies.
Cronyism extends into other industries as well, including palm oil. Malaysia is currently the world's largest producer of palm oil, and many of the largest producers have strong political ties. Promoted by incentives which give plantation owners a 100 percent tax exemption for 10 years, thousands of hectares of forest have been cleared for palm oil and other types of plantations. While plantations on cleared and degraded forest lands are ecologically and economically beneficial, clearing natural forest for plantations results in increased erosion and biodiversity loss.
Like Indonesia, the Malaysian government sponsored transmigration programs to open up rainforest for cash crop production. Between 1956 and the 1980s, Malaysia converted more than 15,000 square kilometers of forest for resettlement programs.
Periodic fires, usually coinciding with the el Niño events, burn thousands of hectares across Malaysia, especially on the island of Borneo. The haze from these fires and the fires in Kalimantan (Indonesia) cause serious pollution and health problems in Malaysia.
Back in the 1990s, the Malaysian government reacted to fires by ordering media blackouts to avoid spooking tourists and inciting panic over the health impact. Today this has changed as the government increasingly blames Indonesia for failing to control wildfires.
Malaysia is home to some 15,500 species of higher plants, 746 birds, 300 mammals, 379 reptiles, 198 amphibians, and 368 species of fish.
On paper, more than 30% of Malaysia's land area is under some form of protection, although some "conservation" areas are specifically managed for logging.
Satellites reveal browning mountain forests
(11/22/2013) In a dramatic response to global warming, tropical forests in the high elevation areas of five continents have been "browning" since the 1990s. They have been steadily losing foliage, and showing less photosynthetic activity. Scientists analyzed the forest cover by using satellites to measure sunlight bouncing off the surface of the earth, then determining the different surface types via reflection patterns.
Malaysia has the world's highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest map
(11/15/2013) Malaysia had the world's highest rate of forest loss between 2000 and 2012, according to a new global forest map developed in partnership with Google. Malaysia's total forest loss during the period amounted to 14.4 percent of its year 2000 forest cover. The loss translates to 47,278 square kilometers (18,244 square miles), an area larger than the country of Denmark.
Powered by Google, high resolution forest map reveals massive deforestation worldwide
(11/14/2013) Researchers today released a long-awaited tool that reveals the extent of forest cover loss and gain on a global scale. Powered by Google's massive computing cloud, the interactive forest map establishes a new baseline for measuring deforestation and forest recovery across all of the world's countries, biomes, and forest types. The map has far-reaching implications for efforts to slow deforestation, which accounts for roughly ten percent of greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities, according to the authors of the paper that describes the tool and details its first findings.
3.5 million ha of Indonesian and Malaysian forest converted for palm oil in 20 years
(11/12/2013) Some 3.5 million hectares (8.7 million acres) of forest in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea was converted for oil palm plantations between 1990 and 2010, finds a comprehensive set of assessments released by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The research, conducted by an international team of scientists from a range of institutions, is presented in a series of seven academic papers that estimate change in land use and greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm expansion in the three countries, review the social and environmental impacts of palm oil production, forecast potential growth in the sector across the region, and detail methods for measuring emissions and carbon stocks of plantations establishing on peatlands.
Murum dam blockaders may be suffering human rights violations warns NGOs
(11/12/2013) A coalition of nearly 30 organizations has sent a letter to top authorities in Sarawak and Malaysia warning them of possible human right violations against a group of indigenous Penan who are blocking roads to the construction site for Murum Dam. Over 100 indigenous people have been blocking a road for over a month as they demand more compensation and land after being forced to move from their traditional lands to make way for the 900 megawatt dam.
8 tribesmen arrested in Borneo dam protest
(11/07/2013) Malaysian authorities arrested eight indigenous protestors on Thursday in a crackdown on a long-running demonstration against a dam the tribesmen say will flood their homeland in Malaysian Borneo.
Palm oil companies ignoring community rights, new study shows
(11/07/2013) Some of the largest palm oil companies are clearing forests and peatlands without seeking consent of local communities, leading to a spate of unresolved conflicts in plantation concessions around the world, warns a coalition of NGOs and researchers. Members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) are violating the rights of local communities in tropical forests and failing to live up to social and environmental commitments, the coalition said in a report released on Thursday.
Indigenous groups expel workers, blockade another dam in Sarawak
(11/05/2013) Hundreds of tribal people in Sarawak have started blockading a second big hydroelectric dam project being built by a government, which critics accuse of nepotism and corruption. Late last month around 200 native Kenyah, Kayan and Penan people chased away workers and set up a blockade on a road leading to the site of the proposed 1200 megawatt Baram dam.
World's most cryptic feline photographed in logging concession
(11/04/2013) The bay cat is arguably the world's least-known member of the cat family (Felidae). Although first described by scientists in 1874, no photo existed of a living specimen until 1998 and a wild cat in its rainforest habitat wasn't photographed until five years later. Given this, scientists with Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Imperial College London were taken aback when their remote camera traps captured numerous photos of these elusive cats hanging out in a commercial logging concession in Sabah, a state in Malaysian Borneo.
New corruption allegations in Sarawak energy project
(11/04/2013) An infrastructure company with ties to Sarawak's chief minister has just landed a $196 million contract to build transmission lines, sparking new complaints about cronyism and corruption in the Malaysian Borneo state.
Scientists: to save the Malayan tiger, save its prey
(10/31/2013) A major premise of biology, as any high-schooler can tell you, is the study of the connections between organisms. Perhaps nowhere is there a better example of this than in Malaysia, where the population of Endangered Malayan tigers (Panthera tigris jacksoni) is being undercut by dwindling prey. A recent study by MYCAT, the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers, highlights this connection by presenting a distinct correlation between prey and tiger population.
'Sustainable' tropical timber trade a misnomer, says group
(10/24/2013) The production and trade in 'sustainable' timber products in Southeast Asia is mostly 'a mirage' due to questionable forestry practices and loopholes in import regulations, alleges a new report from Friends of the Earth International.
Celebrities aim to raise $1.6 million to keep orangutan forests from the the chopping block in Borneo
(10/02/2013) Sir David Attenborough, Bill Oddie and Chris Packham are supporting an effort to save the orangutan from extinction by raising £1m in just two weeks. Orangutans in their natural environment live in undisturbed ancient forests and for many years it was believed they shunned any other habitats. But researchers have discovered they can survive just as well and perhaps even better in forests that have been intensively thinned out by loggers, giving renewed hope for the species.
Bornean elephant meets palm oil: saving the world's smallest pachyderm in a fractured landscape
(10/01/2013) In the Malaysian state of Sabah, where most conservation students are still foreigners—either European or American—Nurzahafarina Othman stands out: not only is she Malaysian, a Muslim, and a mother of a young daughter, but she's rapidly becoming a top researcher and champion for the world's smallest elephant: the Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis). Although sometimes described as a pygmy elephant, they still weigh 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds). The origin of these 'tiny' elephants in Malaysian Borneo have baffled scientists for decades.
Malaysia clearcutting forest reserves for timber and palm oil
(09/26/2013) In July Bikam Permanent Forest Reserve in Malaysia's Perak state was degazetted, allowing the forest to be clearcut for an oil palm plantation. Only after the forest was lost, did the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) announce that it had contained the last stands of keruing paya (Dipterocarpus coriaceus) on the Malay peninsula, a large hardwood tree that's classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The species is now reportedly extinct in Malaysia, although may still be found in Indonesia. However, the degazettement of the 400-hectare Bikam Forest Reserve wasn't an abnormality, according to activists. Since 2009, over 9,000 hectares of Permanent Forest Reserves have been degazetted in northwestern state, wiping out not just trees, but undercutting protected mammals and birds while threatening watersheds.
Zombie coal: Borneo resurrects controversial coal plant
(09/18/2013) The Malaysian government is taking another look at building a hugely controversial coal-fired plant in the Bornean state of Sabah, a proposal that was thrown out in 2011 due to a large-scale grassroots movement. The 300 megawatt coal plant would have been built in Lahad Datu on the edge of a wildlife reserve and the state's renowned coral reefs. Reportedly, the government is now considering building the same plant only further south in Tawau, which also lies on the coast.
Activists target major snack makers over 'conflict' palm oil
(09/12/2013) Environmental activists have launched a major campaign targeting 20 of the largest snack food companies that use palm oil in their products. The campaign, led by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), says that food giants are failing to ensure the palm oil they source does not drive deforestation or worsen social conflict.
Japanese firms buying illegal timber from Malaysia’s endangered rainforests
(09/10/2013) Japanese companies are failing to keep illegally logged timber from entering their supply chains, international human rights and environmental watchdog Global Witness said in a report released today. The report links several major Japanese firms to logging companies that are destroying tropical rainforests in Malaysian Borneo through illegal and destructive logging practices in Sarawak province.
Large-scale opposition among Borneo villagers to deforestation
(09/10/2013) Nearly two-thirds of villagers surveyed across rainforests in Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo are against large-scale deforestation due to the adverse impacts on livelihoods and the environment, finds a comprehensive new study across 185 communities. The research, conducted over a one-year period by an international team of scientists, is published in this week's issue of the journal PLOS ONE. The study found that people who live near forests place the greatest value on the benefits they afford, including medicinal plants, game, clean water, and fiber.
Malaysia to launch palm oil certification scheme to compete with RSPO
(09/06/2013) Malaysia will launch its own certification standard for palm oil produced by local firms by 2014, reports Reuters. The initiative aims to differentiate Malaysian palm oil from that produced in other countries, while offering a less stringent alternative to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the sector's leading certification body.
Scientists outline how to save nearly 70 percent of the world's plant species
(09/05/2013) In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world's land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world's plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world's land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world's plants.
Malaysian NGOs form alliance to address palm oil concerns
(07/31/2013) Seven Malaysia-based NGO's have banded together to form an alliance to provide a Malaysian civil society perspective on social and environmental issues related to palm oil production. The initiative aims to counter Malaysian industry claims that concerns over palm oil are purely driven by Western NGO's.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.