New plan saves forests, orangutan


John Tay

KOTA KINABALU: Forever Sabah (FS) in partnership with Sabah Forestry Department began engaging with several Forest Management Units (FMU) in an FMU Roundtable in 2015, bringing license holders to the table to discuss the transformation of the industry towards an innovative, diversified and circular economy.

Most FMU holders sought a shift from the timber industry of the past and amongst them were progressive “captains of industry” committed to the process of transformation towards business models and ethics that reflect Sabahan aspirations.

A key concern however, was that the right government leadership and governance was imperative for the private sector to make the bold investments necessary for change.

The roundtable envisioned better vertical integration and down streaming of the industry within Sabah, including co-designing and prototyping conservation economies such as carbon, bio-plastics from wood waste, grid-tied mini hydropower from healthy watersheds, community forestry, training institutes and others.

Another important vision that emerged was to co-develop with government and civil society a 25-year holistic Forest Management Plan (FMP), which governs all of Sabah’s forests as an integrated landscape.

In 2016, and after some rigorous scrutiny, a focused engagement with FMU 5 began due to the significant conservation value of the landscape with intact forests, considerable hydrological resources, and significant orang utan population, as well as its value as a “climate change refugium” for wildlife.

As a result of this engagement, Forever Sabah, Hutan and WWF Malaysia formed the FMU 5 NGO Council and entered into a five-year Memorandum of Understanding with Sabah Forestry Department and the concession holder Anika Desiran Sdn Bhd at the International Heart of Borneo conference in October 2017.

The objectives of the MoU are stated as: Transparency and accountability in the development, implementation and monitoring of management plans and related operations; Effective protection and restoration of natural vegetation, wildlife habitats, watershed and other forest ecological functions, especially in areas of high conservation value, of importance to indigenous local communities, of steep terrain and riparian zones; Effective protection of wildlife populations against hunting and other activities that jeopardize their long-term survival; Assist with agreed phasing-out of logging and replacement with alternative opportunities within a conservation and circular economy; and To respect all laws of Sabah and of the Federation that applies.

This marked an unprecedented engagement between government, private sector and civil society to innovate through shared governance and responsibility.

Prior to the signing of the MoU, a transformed Forest Management Plan (FMP) with fundamental input from the NGO Council was agreed upon by all parties: transforming the land use regime from large-scale, intensive salvage logging and plantations to Natural Forest Management with Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) principles and practices based on the FSC-certified Deramakot Forest Reserve model. “With the new FMP, we succeeded in avoiding deforestation and losing orang utan habitat in over 40,000 hectares, preserved forest connectivity, reduced damage to streams and rivers, and protected approximately 2,400 hectares of village gravity water supply catchments which were mapped by Forever Sabah with the permission of Sabah Forestry Department and the concessionaire”, stated Cynthia Ong, Chief Executive Facilitator of Forever Sabah.

According to Dr John Tay, WWF Malaysia’s Sabah Head, “Collective next steps in the following months are community dialogues on the new FMP with surrounding villages, the development of the carbon product, the study of renewable energy feasibility, the training of Anika Desiran staff in High Conservation Value monitoring, and the continued satellite and field monitoring of RIL activities”.

The FMU 5 case paves the way for, and makes all the more urgent a 25-year FMP process to guide landscape level governance and planning.

“Such a 25-year statewide FMP can guide the reorientation of individual FMUs as their FMPs expire, and like the FMU 5 story, we are making the case that civil society is at the governance table; the way forward is for transparent and collaborative processes between government, private sector and civil society,” concludes Dr Marc Ancrenaz, director of Hutan.