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Surprise land gift for HoB
Published on: Thursday, November 12, 2015

Kota Kinabalu: An unusually big heart for conservation from an unexpected source raised plenty of eyebrows at the International Conference on the Heart of Borneo (HoB) launching here on Wednesday.

An 800-strong conference participants erupted into loud applause when philanthropist Liew Pin Cheong of timber company Lebihasil handed the private land titles for 462.655 hectares (about 1,100 acres) of coveted forest lands in Lower Segama to Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman.

"This land is important because it is a connectivity between Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Kulamba Wildlife Reserve," noted Sabah Forestry Department Director Datuk Sam Mannan.

"It is high quality secondary forest easily worth RM20 million in the market, 70 per cent of which is good forest and 30 per cent needs some sort of restoration," Mannan noted.

"This is excellent and I think it is also the first case in Sabah. I don't know about in Malaysia, in which land of high value being donated back to society and protected for posterity without any cost to the Government for compensation," he added.

"Kulamba is rich in certain wildlife especially tembadau, elephants which have also been found in Kretam over the years but usually during certain seasons when they can go across without getting bogged down," Mannan added.

On how this historic land donation happened, Mannan said: "We talked to Liew after getting the area assessed by Robert Risch from German NGO The Rhino and Forest Fund, who has been helping us restore degraded forest inside Tabin with money from donors in Germany."

"Risch suggested to us there must be a corridor dedicated for this purpose and we went in and checked various land uses and ownership and things like that.

"After that, we approached Liew who decided that it will be a gift from him to the people of Sabah and the generations to come and committed this land to be turned into part of the Tabin Wildlife Reserve," Mannan explained.

"After which he surrendered all his titles over to the Land Office for cancellation and we are going to gazette that block of 1,100 acres into an extension of Tabain Wildlife Reserve," Mannan said.

"In fact, Liew has also restored quite a bit of the area using indigenous species such as Payung Payung which looks a like an umbrella," he added.

"Besides this land donation, Liew is involved in the development of a nine-hole golf course of PGA standard in Sandakan. There is no money benefit in that but he is going to build something which is a huge benefit to the people of Sandakan," Mannan concluded.

Meanwhile, TSH Resources Bhd is carving out 28,375 hectares of largely virgin forests from its Forest Management Unit concession to be reclassified as Class One Forest Reserve.

Mannan said TSH Resources has taken the cue from Sabah Foundation and Sapulut Forest Development.

"These are historical decisions and this can only happen if these companies trust the intentions of the proponent – in this case, the State Government, ultimately the Chief Minister," he said.

TSH Resources Managing Director Datuk Kelvin Tan said the company is prepared to surrender a big chunk of land, close to 30,000ha, to build a good biodiversity for the State's future.

"The land is very sizeable…as also a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil member, soon our two plantations in Indonesia will be validated.

"We will perhaps be among one of the earliest to be certified," he said.

Earlier, Mannan said Sabah has achieved much in the goals of the HoB Initiative, adding that the State aims to exceed the International Union for Conservation of Nature's target of 10 per cent guideline by 200 per cent.

"The totally protected areas of Sabah were 864,182ha (11 per cent) in 2007 when the HoB was launched and it has doubled to 1.56 million (21 per cent) today, rising further to 1.78 million ha (24 per cent) before the year end, with the creation of newly protected forests, largely in the lowlands.

"The final journey is 30 per cent of Sabah or 2.2 million ha, which I believe is achievable," he said.

Among others, he said 75 per cent of the Sabah orang-utan population of 11,000 or so, are now protected in FSC Certified Forests or totally protected areas.

Mannan also said the number of short term logging licences have also been phased down to a trickle, saying the remaining three or four licensees with an area not exceeding 5,000ha in forest reserves will see their licence duration out.

"Critically endangered species – let them die," he said of the remaining licensees.

He said for the first time plantation timber production is about to exceed natural forest production, while forest restoration and tree planting has exceeded 550,000ha.

Meanwhile, he said no less than 30,000ha of natural forests are treated, restored and tended to each year.

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