Malaysia — All access roads into the Raja Musa Forest Reserve in Batang Berjuntai in Selangor will be closed by the first quarter of next year to prevent illegal access to the peat forest.
According to Selangor Forestry Department director Dr Yunus Zakaria, the move is to prevent outsiders from going into the forest to conduct illegal activities.
At the same time, we will block the drains and canals in the area to contain the water and raise the water table. This will help prepare us for next years dry season and reduce the chance of having another forest fire, he said.
He said the department hoped to restore the ecology of the forest.
Yunus said this after a community tree-planting programme at the forest last Saturday.
The community tree-planting scheme is the first of a rehabilitation programme developed by the Selangor State Forestry Department and the Global Environment Centre (GEC).
More than 100 volunteers from several NGOs, including the GEC, Eco Warriors Club and Youth Environment Foundation, joined the department officers and workers to plant 3,000 mahang saplings (macarang species) on 2ha of the reserve. The saplings were provided by the department.
Also present were Kuala Selangor district officer Mohd Misri Idris and GEC director Faizal Parish.
Yunus said the mahang tree was chosen because it was considered a pioneer species in peat forests.
The mahang tree provides a natural setting for other species of trees to grow, he said.
The mahang is a fast-growing peat-swamp tree. It can create forest cover rapidly, prevent encroachment and reduce the risk of forest fires.
According to Yunus, the species took 10 years to mature but could reach maturity faster with proper care.
We can see the results within three years, with the trees providing enough cover for the introduction of other species.
But we have to make sure there is suitable soil for them to grow, he said.
Yunus said the department would monitor the forest and make sure its natural ecology was restored.
According to Faizal, peat swamps are like sponges that absorb rain and river water, and they help control floods during rainy seasons and release much-needed water during the dry season.
Lowering water tables and draining peat forests raises the risk of fire in peat soils, Faizal said.
Once dried, the peat would oxidise and break down, causing the soil to collapse.
Faizal said the drainage of peat lands led to aeration and decomposition of the peat material and oxidation that triggered carbon dioxide (a global-warming gas) emission.
He said studies had shown that disturbed peat swamps in Indonesia and Malaysia continued to emit carbon dioxide for years even if clearing was stopped.
Economically, it is not a good idea to develop plantations or townships on peat land due to the high risk of fire, he said.
Faizal added that Malaysia, with nearly 2.5 million hectares of peat forests, had the second largest area under peat forests in the region after Indonesia.
The Raja Musa and Sungai Karang forest reserves form the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest, the second largest peat forest in the peninsula covering 75,000ha after the one in Pahang which covers 200,000ha.
The Raja Musa reserve alone covers 23,000ha, but 525ha of it have been illegally cleared.
The largest peat forest in the country is located in Sarawak and measures 1.5 million hectares.
However, substantial areas of peat forests there have been cleared for agriculture and plantation crops such as oil palm and rubber.