Eco Warriors Malaysia environmental group in conjunction with the the Global Environment Centre, the Selangor Forestry Department and other NGO groups organised a tree planting day in the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest on 13th December 2008 to initiate the rehabilitation of this important ecosystem which had been illegally cleared and burnt for agricultural purposes. This is a large scale, long term project to replant this large protected forest area and will make an important contribution to the long term storage of carbon dioxide and climate control.
The North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest is a 75,000 hectare forest located north of Kuala Lumpur close to Batang Berjuntai. It is an ecologically important ecosystem for the regulation of climate with the trees absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing this in a thick layer of un-decomposed plant material or peat. The peat in this forest is up to 10m thick, has accumulated over the last 10,000 years and is one of the most important global stores of carbon therefore regulating the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This protected forest area was unfortunately destroyed about 10 to 15 years ago by illegal burning and clearing for agricultural purposes but recently the Selangor Forestry Department has cleared this area of the agricultural development and has started a rehabilitation programme with the replanting of trees to restore the forest. This will make an important contribution to the the maintenance of the peatland and the absorption of carbon dioxide from other activities in Malaysia.
A peat swamp forest is an extremely diverse ecosystem with about 500 species of trees which can grow up to around 30m tall. Some are valuable timber species and there are also some useful medicinal plants. From a conservation point of view these species are very important so it was an extremely large impact when this forest was cleared and burnt. All forest fires in Malaysia and in the tropics are human related as naturally there is no fire in the system, hence the reason that the layer of plant material has built up to a thickness of around 10m. A peat swamp forest acts like a sponge, absorbing rain and river water, helps control floods during the rainy season and releases much needed water during the dry
The species chosen to be planted is called Mahang in Malay or scientific name Macaranga. This is a peat swamp forest species and is known as a fast growing pioneer species, is able to tolerate high levels of sunlight and can create forest cover rapidly. Macaranga is a genus in the family Euphorbiaceae, comprising trees, treelets and some lianas – many of which are conspicuous large-leafed pioneers of disturbed habitats. Macaranga is often common in secondary forests, especially in logging areas. So after planting these trees will grow up to create a dense coverage in only a few years. Within 25 years Macaranga can grow up to 30m tall with a diameter of 1m to 2 m.
Selangor Forestry Department director, Dr. Yunus Zakaria, Kuala Selangor district officer Mohd Misri Idris and Faizal Parish of the Global Environment Centre were at this event to help kick off this initiative. There were also a large number of forestry officers to assist in the direction of the tree sapling planting. There were more than 100 volunteers who showed up and guided by the forestry officers around 3,000 Macaranga saplings were planted over an area of around 2 hectares.
This event was additionally supported by a number of other NGO groups including PATT (Plant-A-Tree-Today) and Yayasan Anak Warisan Alam. The Plant-A-Tree-Today Foundation was formed in 2005 with its mission to react to problems caused by the massive and increasing levels of deforestation worldwide, raise awareness of environmental issues and the role forests play, take action against climate change, educate children on these issues and to plant more trees. Yayasan Anak Warisan Alam, (YAWA), can be translated as ‘Children’s Environmental Heritage Foundation’. A non-profit, non-government organisation, it was founded in 1990, as an informal group called the Junior Environmental Group of Malaysia (JEGOM) purely to instill a love of and care for the environment in young people.
The North Selangor Swamp Forest area has been seriously threatened by over-exploitation and reclamation for agriculture with much of the forest already extensively logged. Encroachments into this protected forest area also include agriculture, mining, palm oil and rubber plantation development.
The site plays a critical role in the hydrology of the area, reducing local flooding and probably acting as an important water supply to the adjacent rice paddies. Drainage of water from the swamp forest for agricultural purposes has dramatically changed the water table and has made the area more susceptible to fires.
The swamp forest also has significant forestry value, mainly in terms of timber production and forestry research. The area is of outstanding value for scientific research on peat swamp ecology, hydrology and forestry.
Regeneration of a damaged peat swamp forest will not be easy; after all, it took some 10,000 years for the peat to form. While rehabilitation of peat swamps has been inadequately studied it may take some 50 years for a damaged forest to re-establish itself; that is, assuming that its hydrology was not significantly spoiled.
The tree planting initiative which has been started is a small first step in the rejuvenation of this important and valuable diverse ecosystem. If these peat swamp forests continue to be logged, burnt, drained and filled, Malaysia will unfortunately soon be a source of choking haze that we have experienced over the last few years from nearby Indonesia.
Eco Warriors Malaysia
Eco Warriors Malaysia is an environmental group started by Matthias Gelber. Matthias is a German entrepreneur who has been living in Malaysia for some years now and is the very first Greenest Person on the Planet 2008 contest winner. He beat 600 participants from around the world in this contest launched on Earth Day (April 22) this year by 3rdwhale, a Canadian-based green organisation that aims to raise awareness about sustainability through interaction and new-age social movement.
Eco Warriors Malaysia has a goal to link people that want to deliver fast and comprehensive positive environmental change in Malaysia. Initially the focus will be on tree planting in order to combat climate change and to look after the needs of the environment and future generations. The ultimate aim is to make a positive environmental change happen.
Along with a number of other NGOs and in conjunction with the Global Environment Centre and the Selangor Forestry Department Eco Warriors Malaysia arranged a tree planting day on 13th December 2008 at the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest.
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