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.
Malaysia at risk of falling behind in push for more sustainable palm oil
(04/17/2014) The Malaysian state should play a more active role in supporting the transition toward less environmentally destructive palm oil production, says a coalition of Malaysian NGO's. In a statement issued Sunday, the Malaysian Palm Oil NGO Coalition (MPONGOC) urged Malaysian banks, palm oil associations, and other government-backed institutions to commit to 'improving social and environmental standards in the palm oil industry'.
Malaysia imperils forest reserves and sea turtle nesting ground for industrial site (photos)
(04/15/2014) Plans for an industrial site threaten one of Malaysia's only marine turtle nesting beaches and a forest home to rare trees and mammals, according to local activists. Recently, the state government of Perak approved two industrial project inside Tanjung Hantu Permanent Forest Reserve. But activists say these will not only cut into the reserve, but also scare away nesting turtles from Pasir Panjang.
Riddled with tumors: another blow to the Sumatran rhino species
(04/14/2014) Conservation for Sumatran rhinos suffered another blow last week, only days after Suci—one of only ten rhinos in captive breeding efforts—died at Cincinnati Zoo. Scientists in the Malaysian state of Sabah revealed that a newly captured female, Iman, suffers from an assortment of tumors in her uterus, hugely complicating reproduction efforts.
Cargill commits to zero deforestation, but environmentalists have questions
(04/09/2014) After years of criticism from environmental groups, Cargill says it will establish policies to eliminate deforestation, peatlands conversion, and social conflict from its palm oil supply chain. But activists aren't yet sure what to make of the agribusiness giant's pledge. On Tuesday Cargill released a letter it sent to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that sets eco-certification standards, in response to a Greenpeace Report linking it to deforestation.
Emissions from rainforest logging average 16% of those from deforestation
(04/08/2014) Carbon emissions from selective logging operations in tropical rainforests are roughly a sixth of those from outright forest clearing, finds a new study that evaluated 13 forestry concessions in six countries. The study analyzed carbon losses from elements of logging operations, including timber extraction, collateral damage to surrounding vegetation, and logging infrastructure like roads and skid trails.
Malaysian palm oil giant tied to social conflict, deforestation, says report
(04/03/2014) Unlike other palm oil giants that have recently made strong commitments to eliminating deforestation and social conflict from their supply chains, Malaysia-based Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK) continues to source palm oil associated with forest destruction and community conflict, argues a new report published by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
General Mills, Colgate-Palmolive announce deforestation-free policies for palm oil sourcing
(03/24/2014) Two consumer products giants have joined the wave of companies committing to deforestation-free palm oil. On Monday General Mills and Colgate-Palmolive both announced palm oil policies that go beyond standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the industry's main certification body. The policies include provisions to protect wildlife-rich rainforests and carbon-dense peatlands, while respecting the rights of local communities.
Meet Iman: the Sumatran rhino's newest hope for survival
(03/24/2014) Hopes for one of the world's most imperiled megafauna rose this month when wildlife conservationists succeeded in catching a female Sumatran rhino named Iman in the Malaysian state of Sabah. The female, which experts believe to be fertile, has since been successfully transferred via helicopter to the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary where experts plan to mate her with the local male, Tam. Located in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary is an uncompleted semi-wild enclosure and home to one of several last-ditch efforts to save the vanishing species from extinction.
Conservationists catch wild Sumatran rhino, raising hope for world's most endangered rhinoceros
(03/12/2014) Conservationists have succeeded in catching a wild Sumatran rhino in the Malaysia state of Sabah in Borneo, according to local media reports. Officials are currently transferring the rhino, an unnamed female, to a rhino sanctuary in Tabin National Park where experts will attempt to mate it with the resident male, Tam. The Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is one of the world's most imperiled species with less than 100 individuals left.
Fast food companies are laggards on palm oil sourcing safeguards
(03/05/2014) Fast food companies are lagging behind other consumer products companies in efforts to establish policies that favor deforestation-free and conflict-free palm oil, finds a new assessment published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. The report, titled 'Donuts, Deodorant, Deforestation: Scoring America's Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments', looked at palm oil sourcing policies of 30 of the largest fast food, personal care, and packaged food corporations in the United States. It found leadership by a handful of firms.
Can palm oil move past its bad reputation?
(03/02/2014) Indonesia’s palm oil industry has gained a notorious reputation in recent years. Palm oil companies are routinely accused of clearing primary forests, destroying the habitats of endangered species, releasing massive amounts of carbon by draining peat swamps and fueling land conflicts with local communities. In the face of this widespread criticism, some palm oil companies are exploring ways to clean up their operations by implementing innovative programs to minimize harm to the environment and ensure local communities benefit from palm oil investments, according to a new study.
Sarawak's top official accused of violating constitution
(02/27/2014) Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud has been accused of violating Sarawak's constitution by engaging in commercial activities while serving as the state's top official over the past thirty plus years, reports the Bruno Manser Fund, an NGO that campaigns on behalf of Sarawak's forest people.
Palm oil's climate impact worse than thought due to methane emissions
(02/27/2014) Methane leaks from palm oil wastewater significantly increases the climate impact of palm oil production beyond emissions from land clearance, fire, and peatlands drainage, reports a new study published in Nature Climate Change. The research, led by Philip. G. Taylor of the University of Colorado, finds that annual methane emissions from palm oil wastewater effluent amount to the equivalent of 115 million tons carbon dioxide in Malaysia and Indonesia alone, or roughly 15 percent of total emissions from peat oxidation and land use change in the two countries.
New forest map for Sarawak reveals large-scale deforestation, encroachment on indigenous territories
(02/24/2014) A new online platform released by the Bruno Manser Fund reveals large-scale destruction of Sarawak's rainforests, peatlands, and traditional lands. Drawing from a variety of sources, the Sarawak Geoportal includes data on logging concessions, oil palm plantations, existing and proposed dams, historical forest cover, the extent of indigenous cultivated areas, election results, and area where there are current native customary rights (NCR) disputes.
Through careful management, indigenous people have shaped Asian rainforests for 11,000 years
(01/28/2014) Humans have been actively managing vast areas of Southeast Asia's forests for longer than previously believed, according to research by paleoecologists from the United Kingdom presented in the current Journal of Archaeological Science. Strong evidence suggests that humans in Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Thailand and Vietnam have engaged in agricultural practices for the last 11,000 years. These findings may help bolster the claims of local indigenous peoples under threat of eviction from their traditional lands.
How “insect soup” might change the face of conservation
(01/23/2014) Much of what we know about patterns of biodiversity has come from extensive fieldwork, with expert researchers sampling and identifying species in a process that takes thousands of man-hours. But new technologies may revolutionize this process, allowing us to monitor changes in biodiversity at speeds and scales unimaginable just a decade ago.
Environmental groups: top secret Pacific trade agreement to sacrifice wildlife, environment
(01/16/2014) Environmental groups have blasted draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) released yesterday by WikiLeaks as potentially devastating to the environment and wildlife. The massive 12-nation free trade agreement has been negotiated in secret now for almost four years, and the information release by WikiLeaks shows that key environmental safeguards in the agreement are being stripped away, including a ban on shark finning and illegal logging, as well as legally-enforced pollution regulations.
Requiem or recovery?: the Sumatran rhino 200 years after its description
(01/08/2014) In 1893, William Bell, a surgeon in the service of the Dutch East India Company stationed in Bencoolen, Sumatra, examined the body of a dead rhinoceros. The animal, a male, was relatively small as rhinoceroses go, measuring only four feet four inches at the shoulder and eight feet five inches from its nose to the tip of its tail. Dr. Bell noted that the animal resembled a large hog and judged it to be a young individual based upon the condition of the bones and teeth.
Rainforest news review for 2013
(12/26/2013) 2013 was full of major developments in efforts to understand and protect the world's tropical rainforests. The following is a review of some of the major tropical forest-related news stories for the year. As a review, this post will not cover everything that transpired during 2013 in the world of tropical forests. Please feel free to highlight anything this post missed via the comments section at the bottom. Also please note that this review focuses only on tropical forests.
Unraveling the secrets of one of the world's most mysterious big cats
(12/22/2013) The Sunda clouded leopard has always been shrouded in mystery. Only declared a separate species from its mainland cousin, the Borneo clouded leopard, in 2006, the IUCN lists the cat as Endangered. The distinction between the Borneo clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulas) and the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) was made by ground-breaking molecular coding technologies and anatomy studies of the two species. Although it is Borneo's largest predator, very little is known about the Sunda leopard. As a medium-sized, well-camouflaged and mostly nocturnal animal, the leopard has evaded researchers since its discovery eight years ago.
UN raps Malaysia on palm oil abuses, risks
(12/19/2013) Malaysia's push to join the ranks of rich countries shouldn't come at the expense of the environment or the vulnerable groups, warned a U.N. expert after a visit to the Southeast Asian nation.
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