After decades of unsustainable logging, which depleted timber stocks and undermined the viability of traditional forestry management, the country's forests were increasingly being converted into oil palm plantations. Oil palm estates grew by 50% or 17,000 sq km in the last three years.
Based on a new global forest map done in partnership with Google, the loss of forest translated to 47,278 square kilometers, an area larger than Denmark, the report noted.Malaysia's net forest loss of 21,480 sq km ranked 12th globally.
Malaysia's rate of forest loss during the period was nearly 50% higher than the next runner up - Paraguay (9.6%). Its area of forest loss ranked ninth after Russia, Brazil, the United States, Canada, Indonesia, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Australia.
Offsetting the loss in forests was a 25,978 sq km gain in vegetation cover resulting from natural recovery, reforestation and establishment of industrial timber and oil palm plantations. The report noted that the oil palm industry was a powerful political force in the country.
Dan Zarin, programme director of the Climate and Land Use Alliance, an association of philanthropic foundations, says trading natural forests for planted forests represents a net loss for the planet.
"You can't 'net out' deforestation by planting trees," said Zarin, "because newly planted forests are far less valuable for carbon, biodiversity and forest-dependent people than standing native forests."
According to Matthew Hansen of the University of Maryland, this is the first map of forest change that is globally consistent and locally relevant and could be used to develop and implement policies to reduce deforestation.
"Now, with our global mapping of forest changes every nation has access to this kind of information, for their own country and the rest of the world," he said.
The article notes, however, that whether Malaysia decides to use the information for that purpose "remains to be seen". - November 18, 2013.
~ The Malaysian Insider