By Gabungan Melindungi Hutan Negeri Selangor

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia--The Coalition for the Protection of Selangor Forests (CPSF) calls for urgent action to revoke the degazettement of Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve (KLNFR) and take action against the Selangor State Agriculture Corporation (PKPS) for the illegal clearance of part of the 308-ha peat swamp forest recently gazetted to partly “replace” KLNFR.

On August 12, 2021, the Selangor government published a notice de-gazetting 536.7-ha of Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve in Southern Selangor – a site of critical importance for biodiversity, carbon storage and local Orang Asli communities. This degazettement to make way for a mixed–development project on the site was undertaken, despite the submission of more than 45,000 written objections to the state government. In order to justify the degazettement, the state government claimed that the KLNFR was very badly degraded, with “no tall trees remaining”.

The state also proposed that the degazetted area would be “replaced” by gazetting new forest reserves containing “land of equivalent or higher value or better forest”. The largest of the three new forest reserves gazetted (also on August 12, 2021) – Sungai Panjang Forest Reserve - is located on peatland in Sabak Bernam District about 100km from KLNFR. This new forest reserve covers 308ha and, according to the state government, in information displayed during the public hearing (town hall) session on Sept 29, 2020 in Pulau Carey, contains high quality peat swamp forest (although it is not clear if the study looked at the final site that was gazetted in 2021).

However, the CPSF wishes to highlight two critical facts:

a) The Statement by the state government at the state Assembly that there are no tall trees in the KLNFR is FALSE. The area to be degazetted in Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve is dominated by forests of tall, diverse, rain forest trees of critical conservation importance and must be conserved.

b) PKPS, chaired by the Menteri Besar, has not once, but twice, destroyed (during attempted development of agriculture schemes) portions of the forest, now designated as Sungai Panjang Forest Reserve. The corporation is currently facing legal action by the Department of Environment (DOE) for clearing the forest without having first undertaken an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

In April 2021, CPSF highlighted the clearing of the forest in Sg Panjang by PKPS (see Appendix 1). This clearance to develop the land for the Selangor Smart Agriculture Park (SSAP) project began in February 2021 without prior preparation of an EIA.

DOE conducted site inspections and issued a notice of instruction to PKPS on April 8, 2021 to stop any site clearance work as described under Section 31, Environmental Quality Act 1974 (Act 127). On April 12, 2021, DOE also issued a prohibition order for activities prescribed under Section 34AA of the same Act.

In a press release issued on April 15, 2021 (see Appendix 2), DOE clarified that no EIA report was submitted by PKPS to DOE as required under Section 34A (6), Environmental Quality Act 1974 for the implementation of the Selangor Smart Agro Park (SSAP) project. An EIA is mandatory under the EIA Order 2015 for all projects proposing to clear and drain more than 20-ha of peat swamp forest for agriculture or other uses.

Despite receiving a Stop Work Order on April 8, 2021, PKPS continued to clear the site until May 2021 based on satellite analysis by the Coalition (see Appendix 3). Work appears to have only stopped in late May 2021 when the State Executive Council (EXCO) apparently agreed that the site would be abandoned and instead it has been gazetted as the Sg Panjang Forest Reserve, supposedly to “balance” the degazettement of KLNFR.

Members of the Coalition have confirmed that this is the second time that PKPS has destroyed part of this forest. In late 2014, PKPS bulldozed 50ha of the forest and dug drains in an attempt to develop an oil palm plantation on the land. They were subsequently forced to abandon the cleared area as they had no permission to develop this land.

The Coalition is very concerned that:

a) The state government has given false information stating that there are no tall trees in the portion of Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve being de-gazetted to justify allowing it to be cleared for a mixed development project.

b) A State Agency (PKPS) chaired by the Menteri Besar of Selangor has continued to clear a forest area despite having being given a Stop Work Order by DOE and  appears to be attempting to cover it up by including the cleared area in a new forest reserve to offset the degazettement of KLNFR.

The Coalition calls for:

a) Immediate revocation of the degazettement of 536.7-ha of the KLNFR returning it to its original size.

b) Legal action to be taken against PKPS for clearing the peat swamp forest without an EIA approval and continuing to clear the forest after receiving a Stop Work Order,

c) An investigation to be made into the false claims by the Selangor State government that there are no tall trees in the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve, and

d) The Selangor MB and EXCOs to conduct a site visit together with CPSF and the Orang Asli to see for themselves the quality of the forest cover in KLNFR especially the 537ha degazetted area.