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.
Reports slam Malaysian timber companies, urge reforms in forest management
(02/27/2015) Two international NGOs have called out Malaysia in recent months over the country’s widespread illegal logging. Malaysia has been accused of not doing enough to protect its diminishing forests and thwart the illicit timber trade, particularly in Sarawak, the site of the country’s worst deforestation. Lax oversight, endemic corruption and limited transparency have allowed for Malaysia’s forests to be plundered by both the government and the private sector.
Reports blame illegal logging for felling Sarawak forest
(02/25/2015) A recent report by the international affairs think tank Chatham House has highlighted Malaysia’s lack of progress in dealing with illegal logging, blaming corruption and a lack of transparency on the country’s sluggish approach to environmental policy reform.
Rainforest loss increased in the 2000s, concludes new analysis
(02/25/2015) Loss of tropical forests accelerated roughly 60 percent during the 2000s, argues a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The findings contradict previous research suggesting that deforestation slowed since the 1990s. The study is based on a map of 1990 forest cover developed last year by Do-Hyung Kim and colleagues from the University of Maryland. The map, which includes 34 countries that contain 80 percent of the world's tropical forests, enabled the researchers to establish a consistent baseline for tracking forest cover change across regions and countries over time.
Sabah shocked by banteng poaching
(02/16/2015) Malaysia's Daily Express recently published graphic photos of poachers in the Malaysian state of Sabah posing proudly with a number of illegally slaughtered large animals, including the incredibly rare and cryptic banteng. Wild, forest cattle, banteng are scattered across parts of Southeast Asia, but Borneo is home to a distinct subspecies: Bos javanicus lowi.
Illegal logging contributed to deadly Malaysian floods, according to government minister
(02/11/2015) Heavy rains hit peninsular Malaysia in December, leading to severe floods that resulted in at least 21 deaths and the displacement of some 200,000 residents in the states of Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, and Terengganu. Now a minister with the federal government says he has proof that the flooding was caused in part by illegal deforestation.
When is a forest a forest? How definitions affect monitoring
(01/29/2015) What exactly is a forest? With forest definitions differing from country to country, and primary forests, secondary forests, and even tree plantations all perceived collectively as "tree cover" by satellite data, how does one accurately keep tabs on land changes?
Half of Borneo's mammals could lose a third of their habitat by 2080
(01/22/2015) Borneo consistently makes the list of the world’s “biodiversity hotspots” – areas full of a wide variety of forms of life found nowhere else, but which are also under threat. To better understand the hazards, a study published today in the journal Current Biology examines the effects of climate change and deforestation in the coming decades on mammals living on the island.
High deforestation rates in Malaysian states hit by flooding
(01/19/2015) Five states hard hit by flooding last month in Malaysia had high rates of forest loss in recent years, bolstering assertions that environmental degradation may have worsened the disaster. According to satellite data from researchers led by the University of Maryland's Matt Hansen and displayed on Global Forest Watch, the states of Johor, Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, and Terengganu each lost more than 10 percent of their forest cover between 2001 and 2012. Loss was greatest in areas with dense tree cover.
2014: the year in rainforests
(12/30/2014) 2014 could be classified as 'The Year of the Zero Deforestation Commitment'. During 2014, nearly two dozen major companies, ranging from palm oil producers to fast food chains to toothpaste makers, established policies to exclude palm oil sourced at the expense of rainforests and peatlands.
Hunting is a greater threat than logging for most wildlife in Borneo
(12/16/2014) Persistence is the key factor in the two most common human stressors on tropical wildlife. In Malaysian Borneo, hunting continually diminishes wildlife populations, whereas the negative impacts from selective logging are more transient, according to a recent study in Conservation Biology.
Tradeoff: Sabah banks on palm oil to boost forest protection
(12/05/2014) Last month Sabah set aside an additional 203,000 hectares of protected forest reserves, boosting the Malaysian state's extent of protected areas to 21 percent of its land mass. But instead of accolades, Sabah forestry leaders were criticized for how they went about securing those reserves: allowing thousands of hectares of deforested land within an officially designated forestry area to be converted for oil palm plantations
Musim Mas says its palm oil will be deforestation-free
(12/04/2014) Singapore-based Musim Mas has established a new sustainability policy that it says will eliminate deforestation, peatlands conversion, and social conflict from its palm oil supply chain. The company, which operates plantations in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo, has been under pressure from environmentalists to join a growing number of palm oil producers and traders that have made zero deforestation pledges.
Is captive breeding the final resort for the Sumatran rhino?
(12/03/2014) Nearing extinction, the Sumatran rhino is running out of options. A native of Indonesia and Malaysia, the Sumatran rhino has declined in the past 30 years from an estimated 800 individuals to no more than 75 remaining today. So far there have been three ad hoc meetings held in 1984, 1993, and 2013, each attempting to develop policies that would potentially save this critical species.
Human infections by 'monkey malaria' increasing as forests disappear
(11/10/2014) 68% of malaria hospitalizations in Malaysia last year were caused by a once-rare strain of the disease traditionally limited to macaque monkeys. However, as deforestation has put humans and wild animals in closer proximity, Plasmodium knowlesi infections and deaths have increased rapidly. The strain is now responsible for three times the severe malaria infections in Malaysian Borneo than P. falciparum—the world's deadliest form of the parasite.
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.