Malaysia: Post Raja Muda Musa Forest Reserve Fire: Hard to gauge extent of damage

Post Raja Muda Musa Forest Reserve Fire: Hard to gauge extent of damage

17 March 2005

publishedby: The Malay Mail

Little is known about the damage to the bio-diversity of Batang Berjuntai’s Raja Muda Musa forest reserve after a large part of its peat vegetation was destroyed in a fire three weeks ago.

Yesterday, The Malay Mail sought the view of Wetlands International on the long-term damage the fire had on the reserve.

The non-governmental organisation’s head, Dr Sundari Ramakrishna, said there are many factors the authority should consider in the management of peat forests.

She said peat swamps are a natural source of flood mitigation, which also maintains the base flow of water in major river systems.

On the wildlife and plant population at the 44,488sq km Batang Berjuntai peat forest, Sundari said no research has been done there.

“The only database we have is a study on the Northern Selangor peat forest done more than 15 years ago in Sabak Bernam,” she said.

Since research is costly, funding is needed for experts to scrutinise the area in detail.

“We have a good network of wildlife experts and hydrologists who can paint a picture on the bio-diversity of the area.

“With the findings, the researchers can make recommendations on managing the peat forest in a sustainable manner.”

On the survival of fauna species, Sundari said most mammals would move further into the jungle owing to the low water table, and survive.

“Insects will be severely affected by the dry spell. Their ecological cycle is affected when vegetation dry up and die.”

She said deliberate burning of dried plants in areas close to peat forests can easily develop into an uncontrollable ecological disaster.

Once land has been cleared, the water table recedes and peat layers, composed of organic materials that took years to form, becomes a fuel for fires to burn underground.

The Batang Berjuntai forest reserve, said the scientist, should be constantly monitored by the authorities as a long-term measure.

Agriculture and timber activities in the peat forests also contribute to the degradation of this fragile eco-system.

“The oil palm, which absorbs much of the waterlogged soil in these areas, are also a contributing factor in lowering the water table.”

During the recent heat-wave, about 40 per cent of the land mass in Peninsular Malaysia was rated as in “extreme condition” by the South-East Asia Fire Danger Rating System (FDRS) managed by the Malaysian Meteorological Department.

To raise public awareness on the importance of peat forests to the environment, Wetlands International has published a 36-page booklet called “Peat Swamp Forests: Malaysia’s Diminishing Forest Type”.

Story by: SAM CHEONG


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