ALOR STAR • A little-known forest reserve in Kedah along the Thai border serves as a key water catchment area for three northern Malaysian states.
The Ulu Muda forest reserve is about twice the size of Singapore and has been a paradise for nature and wildlife lovers. Rainwater from the reserve flows to Perlis, Kedah and Penang states.
The reserve is now facing a big threat from rampant logging, threatening the water collected in three dams in the area - the Muda, Pedu and Ahning dams, The Star newspaper reported yesterday.
Dirt roads have been carved into the forest to make way for heavy-duty vehicles transporting giant logs out of the forest.
At least five logging depots have been found, with thousands of high-quality logs, such as meranti, cengal and merbau, lying around, waiting to be transported to their processing destinations.
The logging depots were about the size of 30 football fields. It is believed that there are other similar depots deeper inside the forest.
Worse, the Kedah state government said it is aware of the legal and illegal logging activities. However, state officials blamed the previous government, led by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), for issuing the logging licences.
Illegal loggers sometimes join in, once licensed loggers open up dirt roads in the area.
At a Kedah state assembly sitting last year, then menteri besar Mukhriz Mahathir said the logging licences were approved by PAS when it controlled the state between 2008 and 2013.
Yes, the river is much dirtier now, but what can we do? These companies have the licence to log here.
RETIREE PAK MAN, who said he often saw lorries going in and out of the logging areas
When contacted, Kedah Water Supply, Water Resources and Energy Committee chairman Badrol Hisham Hashim said: "Those who are found to have conducted logging illegally will be banned immediately."
At the logging depot sites in the forest reserve, workers were seen standing guard at makeshift tents. Some were measuring and recording details of the different types of logs before they were transported out of the forest.
Some of these lorries, carrying the logs felled legally, then headed to the forest ranger's office in Gulau for inspection, before the logs were taken to the sawmills.
The Star, which observed the process in front of the ranger's office for two hours, found that about 100 logs ferried by 10 lorries were inspected.
The logging activities have not gone down well with the villagers in the area.
Mr Wahad Ahmad, 48, who lives in Kampung Landai, said Sungai Sok was once clean but now was very murky. "The river has been filled with mud and sand. It's worse when it rains," said the odd-job worker.
"When I was a child, we used to swim and catch fish in this river. It is impossible for my children to enjoy that right now, " he added.
A retiree, who wished to be known only as Pak Man, said he would often see lorries going in and out of the logging areas.
"Yes, the river is much dirtier now but what can we do? These companies have the licence to log here," he said.
Malaysia's 2014 Auditor-General's report said Kedah had approved 6,252ha of forest for logging, adding to the 4,612ha approved in 2013.
The state received RM10.8 million (S$3.7 million) in forest premium payments in 2013 and RM30.1 million in 2014 .
The Auditor-General's report from previous years showed that in 2012, the state government approved 8,542ha for logging, and received RM32.93 million in forest premium, while 12,909ha was approved in 2011 with a forest premium of RM74.92 million, adding to the state's coffers.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK