Malaysia — There must be interagency and community-based partnerships to fight forest fires, especially at peatland forest reserves. says Selangor Forestry Department director Dr Puat Dahalan.
He said they welcomed the contributions from the community when it came to keeping forest encroachment to a minimal level a measure that reduces the probability of irresponsible behaviour such as setting fires, accidentally or otherwise.
This joining of hands has proven to be effective, especially at the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest, Puat said at the opening of the World Wetlands Day 2015 celebrations at the Raja Musa Forest Reserve here on Saturday.
The reserve is a peat forest that is being rehabilitated via a joint programme between the Global Environment Centre (GEC), the state government as well as the state forestry department.
The effort seeks to restore 4,000ha of peat swamp within the North Selangor peat swamp forest that has been logged in the past, and subsequently encroached by illegal land-clearing for agriculture.
At 73,392ha, the North Selangor peat swamp is located in the north western part of the state, and it consists of Raja Musa Forest Reserve (23,486ha) and the Sungai Karang forest reserve (50,106ha).
GEC is a Malaysian-registered charity that works on environmental issues of global importance, and its community partner at Raja Musa are villagers nearby who are members of the Sahabat Hutan Gambut Selangor Utara (Friends of North Selangor Peat Forest), an NGO for forest protection and rehabilitation.
For this year, we intend to increase the number of patrols conducted by the villagers who live on the fringe of the forest, said Faisal Parish, GECs director, who added that the villagers would report suspicious activities besides being on the lookout for possible fires.
The key to successful management here is the engagement of stakeholders outside the peat forest. We have to sensitise all landowners and work with plantation owners such as Sime Darby and Felda.
Smallholders are also very important, as fires normally start on their land. We also have to ingrain the message that fires are not good for the peat land as it will destroy the land, rather than enhance the land, he added.
Selangor is also trying something new this year to prevent peat fires and it involves tapping water from disused mining ponds.
We have built a network of pipes stretching 2km, and we intend to add more length so that we can pump water from the pond to moisten the peat forest during extended dry periods.
On the message for World Wetlands Day, Puat said there needed to be awareness among the younger generation as well as villagers on the importance of peat swamps.
Only then will they care about the forest, but this cannot be nurtured overnight. It needs time, money and other resources, said Puat.
We are satisfied with the level of interagency and community cooperation and we are looking at replicating this model at the Kuala Langat North and South peat forests.