The Friends of Ulu Muda is a coalition of Malaysian NGOs and community groups who want to stop the proposed heli-logging in the Kedah forest reserves of Ulu Muda, Chebar Besar, Padang Terap, Pedu, Bukit Saiong and Bukit Keramat. Letters to the press have inferred our group is anti-development when we are in fact pro sustainable development.
The original Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was critically flawed as it failed to address important environmental, social and economic aspects. Nor did it include a cost benefit analysis by which the project could be evaluated, but revenue to the state of just $6.25 million for ten years does not justify the enormous costs of replacing environmental services currently provided by the forest for free.
Helicopter logging is presented as environmentally friendly but it is unproven in Malaysia; it is expensive (hence a single token helicopter) and dangerous. The helicopter will fly just 1.5 km, but the proponent plans to build over 400 km of road through the 120,000 hectares of forest, a network equivalent to conventional logging techniques - so where is the advantage of heli-logging?
The roads would destroy millions of trees (250,000 of commercial value) that are not counted in the allowed quota. Much of the land has slopes in excess of 20 degrees, so road building damage would be enormous, and yet no input from a civil engineer was required in evaluating the EIA.
The EIA was done over too short a period to assess impact on seasonal events like rainfall and animal migrations, nor were allowances made for unusual events like heavy rain; everything was based on 'normal' and averaged cycles.
The EIA states that runoffs from the forest would be increased rather than decreased - this may be true in the short term, especially in the wet season, but shortages will be worsened in the dry. Already the north experiences droughts and logging can only make this worse.
A recent survey of Ulu Muda over just five days and in only 729 hectares found abundant rare and possibly new species of plants and animals, few of which were counted in the EIA survey. Nor did the EIA address costs to the community. A damaged catchment causes major problems for water users downstream.
The EIA admits that siltation will increase by nine times, so we deduce that the life spans of existing reservoirs will fall to a ninth. Dams built to last 100 years will be filled with silt in just 11 and must be replaced. By whom, where and at what cost? Will the loggers still be around to pick up the tab?
Currently Penang does not need extensive storage facilities for its water, but if the logging goes ahead, Penang alone (without considering consumers on the mainland, padi farmers or industry) must find hundreds of millions of ringgit to replace storage services that the forest currently gives free. The water quality will deteriorate too, so huge new investments must be made in water treatment.
An issue ignored by the EIA is Risk Analysis: what if after some time the heli-logging is changed to normal logging? What if more than three trees per hectare are taken? What is to prevent the Kedah government from changing the conditions once the project is approved? Will there be a requirement for a new EIA if the logging method or density is changed in future?
Water from these catchments to homes, to industry, to the 62,000 padi farmers and fishing, is probably worth close to RM 1 billion to the economy every year. Without water, there is no farming, no new industry, no growth, and no new jobs. Neither could one go fishing because the rivers and lakes would be so damaged.
The recent announcement from the Federal Cabinet that urged the State government to find other alternatives echoes our concerns. We are grateful for Cabinet concurrence but land and forests are state matters and only the government of Kedah can protect the forests for their many values other than timber.
Despite the cabinet decision, the EIA process is still proceeding, demonstrating that Kedah is still considering logging. We are totally opposed to logging of any description in catchments, and urge the government of Kedah to cancel the project.
Other financial options are available with the support of adjoining states, and it would be catastrophic if the Kedah government considered only short term revenue at the expense of broader national interests. By gazetting the forests as Water Catchment Forests under the Forestry Act, they will be protected in perpetuity.
The Friends of Ulu Muda 9,
1. Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) Friends of the Earth, Malaysia
2. Persatuan Pengguna Pulau Pinang, Consumer Association of Penang (CAP)
3. Persatuan Pencinta Alam Malaysia, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS)
4. Persatuan Kawalan Hakisan Antarabangsa, Malaysia.
International Erosion Control Association, (IECA) Malaysian Chapter.
5. Global Environment Centre (GEC).
6. WWF Malaysia, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWFM)7. Water Watch Penang
8. Wetlands International (WI) Malaysian Programme
9. TERAS Pengupayaan Melayu (TERAS)
10. Persatuan Memancing Malaysia, the Malaysian Angling Association.
11. Jawatankuasa Bertindak Petani MADA, the MADA Farmers Ad-Hoc Committee
12. Persatuan Ulamak Kedah (PUK), the Kedah Muslim Scholars' Association
13. Pembayar-pembayar Cukai Negeri Kedah, the Kedah Taxpayers Society
14. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
15. Aliran Kesedaran Negara (ALIRAN)
16. Persatuan Kebajikan Nelayan-nelayan Pulau Pinang, the Penang Inshore Fisherman Welfare Association, PIFWA
17. Persatuan Bidan, the midwives' association
18. Sungai Petani Bersih
19. Persatuan Pencinta Alam, Malaysian Nature Society, Selangor Branch
20. Persatuan Pencinta Alam, Malaysian Nature Society, Kedah Branch
21. Suaram, Penang Branch