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SOS Rhino : In the News : Disappearing greenery

Disappearing greenery


The Star Online (Malaysia)
8 April 2003

The Sungai Buloh forest reserve in the midst of urban Petaling Jaya is being whittled away in the name of development. Local residents, concerned that one of the oldest forest reserves in the country may be turned into a concrete jungle, are campaigning for the green lung to be developed into a community forest park. TAN CHENG LI reports.

WHO can resist the allure of living next to verdant forests? Certainly not engineer Leong Kam Heng. Drawn to the idea of residing near wilderness away from the mad rush of city life, he bought a piece of property in 1998 at the Selangor Polo and Equestrian Club, an exclusive enclave in the newly-developed Kota Damansara residential area in Selangor.

Like the other 99 purchasers, Leong fell for the sales pitch of healthy living next to nature. Their bungalow lots sit beside lush forests earmarked for Taman Botani, a botanical garden to be set up on what used to be the Sungai Buloh forest reserve. For that luxury, they forked out an extra RM5 to RM10 per sq ft for their property compared to other bungalow owners in Kota Damansara.

Imagine their frustration when within two years of moving in, they discovered that their dream abodes will lose their exclusivity. The forest will make way for more houses. .“When I purchased the property, I was told it adjoins a forest reserve. I was willing to pay a higher price for that. I feel that I have been cheated. Even the masterplan displayed by PKNS (the Selangor Economic Development Corporation, developer of the area) for property sale until today still shows the forest as Taman Botani,” says Leong.

In truth, the Taman Botani project which was proudly announced by Science, Technology and Environment Minister Datuk Law Hieng Ding in the mid-1990s has been abandoned without any explanation although RM1mil had been spent on preparing the masterplan.

This left the Sungai Buloh forest open to development pressures. But that’s hardly a new predicament facing the reserve. Once sprawling over 1,618ha, it has shrunk steadily over the years. Parcel after parcel had been given out, first for rubber plantations, then oil palm estates, and in the past 15 years, houses. New residential areas in Selangor, such as Damansara Perdana, Damansara Damai, Sunway Damansara, Damansara Indah and even Kota Damansara, all sit on land which was once part of the forest reserve. Even the New Klang Valley Expressways cuts through it.

Although 404ha were to be kept aside for Taman Botani, that is now up for grabs. Today, all that’s left of the reserve is 347ha – a reflection of the scant respect accorded to an area which holds the distinction of being one of the oldest forest reserves in the country, dating back to 1898.

But there is hope. The local residents are campaigning for the green lung to stay. They have proposed that it be turned into a community forest park. “There are hardly any forests of this type now. Having this forest park will benefit everyone, not just the immediate residents,” enthuses Leong, who is president of the residents’ association of his area.

Three residents’ associations – from the Selangor Polo and Equestrian Club, Bandar Utama and Kota Damansara areas – have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) to establish the Sungai Buloh Forest Park. Three other associations from Tropicana, Taman Tun Dr Ismail and Bandar Utama are considering doing so.

If all goes well, this will be the first forest park set up by the local community. Its location is more than ideal – it will provide a green enclave amidst one of the most built-up areas in Selangor. The residents are clearly enthusiastic about the project. In October, they held an awareness campaign in conjunction with National Environment Week. People turned up in droves for a colouring competition while those who joined a jungle walk were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the forest and fascinated by the colourful birds spotted.

“Most of us invested in property here because of the greenery,” says Datuk Zainuddin Mohd Tahir, president of the Residents’ Association of Kota Damansara. “When completed, Kota Damansara will have 150,000 residents but the only green areas that we have now are small pockets of playground. We don’t want any development to eat into this green area.” A dearth of urban parks in the Klang Valley, particularly the Sungai Buloh-Damansara area, is reason enough to protect the Sungai Buloh forest, asserts MNS president Datuk Dr Salleh Mohd Nor.

“People need such forested areas to relax and unwind. Just look at FRIM (the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia in Kepong). It is so popular, it’s a madhouse there during weekends because there are so many vehicles and people.

“Very rarely do you have a good, prime forest in the midst of an urban area. This forest provides not just a recreation site, but is also a green lung and wildlife refuge.”

Salleh says the Sungai Buloh reserve is a rich lowland meranti-keruing forest. Although logged in the past, it has regenerated well as logging was very selective with only the highly-prized keruing trees felled. This, coupled with forest rehabilitation work, has left a forest still rich in species. Salleh has observed trees at least 100 years old.

There is also plenty of birdlife. Just by the forest edge, birdwatchers have seen the black-bellied malkohas, crested serpent eagles, kingfishers, black and red broadbills and dollar birds. Deep inside the forest, they have encountered the rare and endangered argus pheasant. The forest is also a vital refuge for migratory birds as flocks of raptors have been seen circling nearby.

Salleh says a survey is needed to determine the forest’s biological wealth. Only after that can a management plan be drafted. He hopes to rope in MNS members and local residents for the task. The community will play a key role in developing and managing the park, while MNS will help facilitate and guide them. Companies, corporations and organisations are also invited to chip in.

To finance the project, the residents’ associations and the MNS will hold fund-raising events. Salleh says the park will require minimal funds as the forest will be kept pretty much as it is. He says infrastructure will be limited to trails, camping grounds, an information centre and rest huts.

But, first, MNS and the residents need to convince the state government that the community forest park will work. They also need to seek the right to manage the proposed park as the forest is state land. However, the group has yet to receive any replies to its two letters written to Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo last year.

Until the state government reveals its plans for the patch of forest, the residents cannot rest easy. To them, it is only logical that the little that is left of the Sungai Buloh forest reserve be preserved. After all, it is not without reason that the site was chosen for a botanical garden. The shelving of the project is no justification to convert the greenery into housing.

As Salleh points out: “We are spending tens of millions to build a forest park in Putrajaya on land that used to be a rubber and oil palm plantation. Only after 25 years can you see an image of a forest there. But here, we have a ready forest. Yet, we want to destroy it.”

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