By Chew Lip Song
PROTECTED forests in Sarawak are under threat from illegal clearing, with loggers allowed to operate under the Movement Control Order (MCO) but activists and indigenous people barred from leaving homes.
Sarawak environmentalist Peter Kallang said the state government has allowed palm oil and logging companies to continue operating during the MCO, including in Ulu Bara where the Penan tribes had set up blockades, The Malaysian Insight reported.
“The Penan had put up the blockades to stop loggers from going in but with the MCO, the Penan cannot man them. So, we fear that the loggers are having a field day in these areas now,” said Kallang of SaveRivers Network.
His concern is not without basis. It was reported that one case of illegal land clearing had been reported in a protected forest in Perak during the first phase of the MCO between March 18 and 31.
Environmentalists are concerned that because local tribes and activists are barred from conducting their usual rounds in forests known to have been a target in the past, these places could be targetted again.
Kallang added that last year, loggers illegally breached the 280,000ha of the Baram Peace Park despite it being a protected forest.
SaveRivers is working with the Penan and Kenyah communities to develop eco-tourism programmes in parts of the park which contain virgin rainforests.
About 28% of the park is virgin forest, 15% cultivated land and the rest degraded forest which the community is attempting to replant and restore.
“Last year, loggers went in and the villagers lodged a police report. So, the area is already known to the loggers. Our fear is that now with the MCO, the loggers have returned as there is no one to stop them,” added Kallang.