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‘Having a national tree could backfire’

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KUALA LUMPUR: While the selection of the Merbau as Malaysia’s national tree could spark sustainable environment management efforts, equal attention should be given to the conservation of the nation’s forests as a whole.

Environmentalists believe that although there are plenty of positives to be gained from having a national tree, it could backfire via certain sectors planting the Merbau purely for its high commercial value.

Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia vice-president Randolph Jeremiah said while it was a positive move, more needed to be done for the forests.

“It is our hope that our forests are accorded recognition and protection due to their uniqueness and importance as habitats for wildlife and water resources.

“In a conscious effort to create sustainability, the federal government should allocate resources to ensure that state governments carry out this responsibility, and improve land use management practices.”

Jeremiah said authorities should secure remaining state land forests through gazettement as forest reserves and prevent any degazettement of existing forest reserves unless for critical use.

Yasmin Rashid

Gurmit Singh

EcoKnights president Yasmin Rasyid said while declaring Merbau as the national tree could spark a positive conservation movement, it might make it more lucrative for certain sectors to start planting Merbau due its high commercial value.

“In this instance, conservation is probably a by-product if the economic model for Merbau plantation can be established, if there is one.

“This move could very well be a stepping stone in raising awareness of local indigenous trees. Secondly, using Merbau as a flagship species can help protect other vulnerable flora and fauna in the forest area.”

However, Centre for Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia (Cetdem) chairman Gurmit Singh said he did not see the significance of having a national tree unless it was to prevent it from being logged.

“Does this mean that the Merbau will be on the list of trees that can’t be logged?

“Why was this particular tree chosen in the first place?

“There should have been a public vote on which tree is selected, just like we do with national logos.”

He cautioned that having a national tree without guidelines or restrictions could be risky.

“What if all the Merbau trees are logged and eventually disappear? Does that mean we don’t have a national tree? If you are going to have something of national significance, you must have rules and regulations to protect it. There must be enforcement in place.”

Capable of growing up to 50m in height, the Merbau is one of the tallest trees in the tropical region. The tree, known by its scientific name Intsia palembanica, is under increasing threat from loggers.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir, in announcing the Merbau’s status as a national tree on Friday, had reaffirmed Malaysia’s commitment to maintain at least 50 per cent of its land area under forest cover to honour its pledge at the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992.

Malaysia’s forest cover is currently at 55.3 per cent or 18.28 million hectares of its total land area, exceeding the government’s initial commitment at the summit.


By New Straits Times –