IN the past, there was so much misconception and protest over the gazettement of Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary (LEWS).
When the government gazetted the forests as national parks, the local people said the area would be given away for logging.
Now, they realise the gazettement is a government effort to conserve the environment and they are helping to stop unscrupulous people entering the area to catch their fish or hunt the protected animals.
The mindset of the people living near LEWS has changed. They no longer depend solely on the forests for their livelihood.
Fish rearing and fruit farming have not only helped solve their food supply problems but also brought additional income to families and longhouses surrounding the Sanctuary.
As headman of Rumah Anthony Bau confessed: “We’re very grateful to the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), for sponsoring the community development project (CDP) in our longhouse.
“We also thank the Sarawak Forest Department for implementing the project which has helped improve our livelihood.
“Besides, the initiatives undertaken by the two agencies have also raised awareness among us not to be too dependent on the natural resources found in LEWS for our livelihood.”
The CDP was implemented by the Forest Department’s Community Service Initiatives (CSI).
Anthony recalled at one time the relationship between the local communities, including those from his longhouse, and Sarawak Forestry was a bit strained.
This, he noted, was due to the community’s own fault, as they had blindly protested the setting up of LEWS.
“We protested because we weren’t aware of Sanctuary’s importance to us, especially when we relied solely on the forest and its resources for a living.
“Now, I thank the two agencies for their community projects which have made it easier for us to earn a living from other sources,” he said at the launch of the tagang system at his longhouse.
The headman said families at his longhouse were learning to become more enterprising and had been earning additional income from the indigenous fruits they planted and fish they reared in valley ponds.
He said aside from that, the relationship between the local community and Sarawak Forestry had become more cordial, adding that they always fully supported any development involving the local community in his longhouse.
The 19-door Rumah Anthony Bau is one of the longhouses located near LEWS. It’s about 40km from Sibu and between three and four hours boatride from Nanga Entabai in Jalau.
LEWS, covering 193,039 hectares of relatively undisturbed primary forest, is located in southwestern Sarawak.
The area includes patches of rugged terrains and hills, and Bukit Lanjak forms the highest peak which stands 1,285 metres above sea level.
Formerly constituted as a protected forest, the area was reconstituted as a Wildlife Sanctuary in February 1983 due to large presence of orangutans and hornbills.
It is believed there are over 30 Iban longhouses in the area, located along Sungei Engkari, Katibas, Ngemah, Kanowit and Mujok.
When the Sanctuary was set up, the longhouses were granted rights to collect forest produce in three designated areas. The activities, however, impacted negatively on the Sanctuary.
Cooperation from the local communities was also lacking in the past as they did not understand the purpose of conservation and felt the government was depriving them of the use of the forest in LEWS that provided their many daily needs.
Illegal encroachments into these areas, particularly by local communities, were still occurring then.
However, strategies to reduce their dependencies on the forest were put in place. These included involving the local communities in managing the Sanctuary and boundary clearing as well as employing them to work at the Ranger stations.
Environment Assistant Minister Datuk Len Talif Salleh said the government had appointed community leaders in the area as honorary wildlife rangers and special wildlife committee members.
Following the appointment, the leaders will report illegal activities to the wildlife authorities or police.
They are also responsible for educating their own communities on the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998 and other wildlife issues as requested by the Controller of Wildlife and other wildlife staff.
Moreover, they are required to advise and help wildlife staff conducting field programmes in their areas, particularly on local wildlife issues and problems as well as provision of relevant background information.
The Rangers and the committee members are also involved in discussions, enforcement and decisions pertaining to the management of the Wildlife Sanctuary.
“Through this initiative, the government hopes the local community and their leaders will become its eyes and ears in its effort to preserve the protected forest and prevent illegal encroachment,” said Len, formerly the director of forest.
He added that with this kind of active participation by the local people, the management of the Sanctuary had been more efficient and acceptable to the communities in the surrounding areas.
With the collaboration of ITTO, the Forest Department has also successfully implemented a Community Development project in the buffer zone, actively involving local communities in various activities.
Sarawak Forest Department deputy director Wan Shardini Wan Salleh said since the implementation of the ITTO-supported project in 1992, the Department had encouraged and helped the local community within LEWS to rear indigenous fish and cultivate indigenous plants, and also trained them in some kind of basic technical knowledge in agro-forestry, fish culture as well as park and wildlife management.
He said throughout the implementation period, some 30 valley ponds had been built while over 50 plots of indigenous fruits had been developed within LEWS buffer zone through gotong-royong.
“Aside from that, the local community were also involved in other activities like research, monitoring and natural environment studies.
“About RM10 million had been spent to implement these activities over the last 22 years,” he said.
An important component of the project is the integration of the use of resources and conservation in the buffer zone outside the Sanctuary.
The local communities are encouraged to develop various projects on plant and animal species of economic potential to supplement their income, at the same time reducing their dependencies on the resources of the sanctuary.
Farmers were selected to participate in the cultivation of indigenous crops.
These crops were selected based on their potential for domestication and commercialisation and in consensus with the participants.
In addition, the farmers were provided with commercial fruit species, some of which are non-seasonal in an effort to have an integrated orchard to ensure fruit supply on a daily basis.
With active participation in these activities, the local people spent less time in the forests of the Sanctuary to look for wild fruits and other jungle produce.
They were also taught to monitor and record the growth performance of the plants and to submit it to representative of the Forests Department or ITTO.
The local communities view the project very positively as admitted openly by Anthony Bau.
He said the community now valued the Sanctuary, particularly its rich natural resources, clean water and fresh air.
They appreciate the great potential benefits that can be derived through a joint effort with the government to sustainably manage the natural resources.
According to Len, the government always tries to implement the community’s economic activities towards a competitive direction based on current development.
“This is important because forest or traditional farming does not guarantee a steady income.
“Because of that, the government always strives to bring changes by encouraging the local community to get involved in commercial agriculture like planting fruit and gaharu trees or fish rearing as an additional source of income.”
The pilot project on fish rearing is said to have been implemented for three longhouses in Ulu Katibas and Ulu Mujok.
Two valley ponds and a concrete tank for fish rearing were constructed by the local communities on gotong-royong with the building materials supplied by the Forests Department or by ITTO office.
The participants were encouraged to rear the high-value indigenous fish such as empurau, tengadak and semah for own consumption and for sale.
Additonally, Sarawak Forestry had assisted in the implementation of the tagang system.
The first one was implemented in 2009 in Ulu Sungai Engkari while the second one was launched by Len recently in Sungai Sugai, Rantau Tapang, Ulu Mujok.
Wan Shardini said the tagang system in Ulu Engkari had been successful.
It is said the residents of three longhouses in the Ulu Engkari have learnt the techniques of restoring fish resources in the river through the tagang system introduced to them five years ago.
Following the success, residents from Rumah Anthony Bau too have adopted such system.
The system at Sungai Sugai was only implemented in December last year and the fish have returned.
At the official launching of the tagang system at his longhouse, Anthony said they had noticed an increase in the fish stocks in Sungai Sugai five months after implementation.
“Our tagang system was implemented late last year and it has started to show the depleted fish stock in our river is being restored.
“This is good for our future,” he said.