The Selangor Forestry Department is in the midst of degazetting a whopping 97% of the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve (KLNFR)
The proposal to degazette will see the forest land converted for development.
There is a worry among concerned Malaysians that doing so will completely destroy the forest and its biodiversity by reducing the currently protected 958 hectares to a mere 28 hectares.
The Kuala Langat district residents and stakeholders have till 5 March 2020 — about two weeks from today — to voice their objections
The Selangor Forestry Department placed a notice on 5 February inviting stakeholders in the district to send in their feedback and objections to the proposal within a 30-day time frame.
The concerned parties are required to send their objections by traditional post.
The notice states that the public can write to the director of the Selangor Forestry Department at Tingkat 3, Bangunan Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, 40660 Shah Alam, Selangor to have their say on the issue.
Malaysiakini reported that the notice includes seven villages gazetted in the KLNFR, namely Kampung Orang Asli Pulau Kempas, Bukit Cheeding, Bukit Kecil, Bukit Perah, Busut Baru, Tanjong Rabok, and Bukit Kamandol. The villages are in the Tanjung 12 district.
According to The Star, the KLNFR is part of a larger tract of land — about 8,000 hectares — that has been gazetted as customary land since 1927. However, 90% of this has been taken away for development.
The move to degazette the massive forest is being done by Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari, who said that 40% of the forest has already "degraded" and the move will prevent future bush fires
In a media briefing on Thursday, 20 February, the Selangor Menteri Besar explained the state government's reasons, saying the quality of trees in the Kuala Langat forest reserve - a peat forest - had eroded due to fire and posed a continual fire hazard to surrounding areas.
"40% of the area has become hutan rosot (degraded forests) due to fires and damage, and the area no longer has elements of the virgin forest it used to be. Therefore we want to change this area to make it more appropriate with its surrounding areas," he said, as reported by Malaysiakini.
"In front of it, we will have a Selangor Business Capital development by the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS). The development next to it (Gamuda Cove) is owned by Gamuda. This (proposal) is also to prevent forest fires, a problem that threatened the ecosystem here a while ago."
Additionally, he argued that it will help stimulate the economies and industries in the East Coast states as the planned East Coast Rail Link route (ECRL) will go around the forest reserve.
"I feel that this degazettement is also being done to give way to the ECRL, which I calculate will stimulate new economies and galvanise new industries on the east coast (of Peninsula Malaysia) as well as Selangor," Amirudin, who is a member of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, was quoted as saying.
However, Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd (MRL), the owner of the ECRL project, has denied that the company is involved in any effort to degazette the forest reserve.
"No, we did not make such a (degazettement) application," Malaysiakini reported MRL as saying.
While the Selangor government has received more than 2,000 objections from the public against the proposal, the Parti Keadilan Rakyat leader has rubbished them, saying they are "just sentiments"
According to a report in Malaysiakini, the Selangor Menteri Besar claimed that those who "oppose this proposal do not realise they are oblivious and have misunderstood the truth".
"Thus far, we have received over 2,000 objections against the proposal, some of which are just sentiments, but I am glad that there is an awareness among the public," Bernama quoted him as saying, while adding that the state government's move is at the second stage of the degazettement proposal.
Meanwhile, Amirudin said that the government plans to make up for the degazettement by gazetting "a bigger area" as a forest reserve
Saying that he doesn't want to "become a Menteri Besar that reduces the number of forests in Selangor", Amirudin stated that the proposal will not reduce the number of forest reserves in the state.
He said that the Selangor government is currently working to choose from a list of peat forests to gazette as forest reserves, the combined area of which will span "at least" 1,092 hectares.
Malaysiakini reported the list consists of a 308.62-hectare plot in Sungai Panjang (Sabak Bernam), a second 606.88-hectare plot in the same area, and a 190.28-hectare plot in Buloh Telor (Ampang Pecah).
However, reactions to Amirudin's comments have been swift with contemporary Malaysian Indigenous artist and activist Shaq Koyok asking him to "go back to school" to avoid being an embarrassment
Water, Land, and Natural Resources Minister Dr Xavier Jayakumar has also voiced his disapproval, saying it sends a "wrong message"
"We should not be destroying green lungs for development, what more an area that has been specially gazetted since 1927. The state government must take into account the sentiment of the Orang Asli living there," Dr Xavier, who is also a concerned party as Kuala Langat MP, was quoted as saying.
There have also been allegations about tech giant Facebook censoring people's posts on its platform who are protesting against the proposal
According to a report in Malay Mail, social media users have noticed their posts with links to a petition on Change.org were removed for allegedly violating community standards on spam.
The Change.org petition, started by a non-profit environmental NGO based in Malaysia called Global Environment Centre (GEC), is asking for Malaysians to voice their objections to the proposal.
A different petition by a group called Concerned Malaysians is asking people to "urge the Selangor Forestry department to scrap the proposed Kuala Langat development project immediately and irrevocably".
At the time of writing, the second petition has crossed over 21,000 signatures.