Communal ownership through the Communal Title system was put in place for the communities living in settlements within forest reserves, said Forestry Department Director, Datuk Sam Mannan.
He said there were three forest reserves that were of relevance, namely Sook Plains, Kuala Tomani and Mount Mandalom.
He said that in order to accommodate the six old settlements and communities in Kuala Tomani Forest Reserve, 2,900 hectares (7,250 Acres) were excised from Kuala Tomani forest Reserve in 2012 to pave the way for communal ownership and the communal title system.
"There are no more settled villages inside Kuala Tomani Forest Reserve, save for Kampung Imahit Lama with a transient population of not more than 100," he said.
Umno Vice President, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi recently expressed dismay that many issues, among them land problems, have yet to be resolved in Sabah.
Officiating at the Umno Tenom annual delegates' conference, Zahid who is "foster father" of the division was worried the BN may face difficulties in the next general election if the land problems, which had been a major issue in Tenom, remain unresolved.
On the other hand, Mannan said NCR claims cases like the Imahit court case, the government won on appeal and the court ruled on Oct. 11 last year that all rights and privileges, including NCR claims inside forest reserves cannot be recognised.
Which meant that actions by the Forestry Department to arrest six accused on illegal cultivation in Kuala Tomani Forest Reserve and thereafter convicted were correct and in accordance with the rule of law.
Mannan said that in a major exercise to address the long standing issues of unauthorised settlements and conversion of forest reserves in the interior, the State government also excised 17,840 hectares (45,000 acres) from Mount Mandalom Forest Reserve, in 2010 and 7,123 hectares (18,000 acres) in 2010 and 2012 from Sook Plains Forest Reserve.
"The excised lands are now being identified by the relevant authorities, largely for allocation on the communal title system and some for Yayasan Sabah in Mount Mandalom for its socio economic obligations and responsibilities," he said.
According to him, a total of 27,863 hectares (about 70,000 acres) have therefore been excised for the benefit of communities, which incidentally is close to 40 per cent of the total land area of Singapore.
On proposed roads and power lines through forest reserves, he said as the land owner, the State Government has to be consulted and its prior approval obtained before such projects can commence.
"It is presumptuous to allocate funds for projects within somebody else's ownership and the landowner (Sabah Government) not knowing about it, or have not given its prior consent. Furthermore, opening of new roads may lead to new encroachments and settlements.
"It is noteworthy to realise that the large swathes of protected forests in Lahad Datu/Tawau/ Kalabakan, such as Danum Valley, Ulu Segama-Malua, Maliau Basin, etc, have contributed immensely to socio-economic development and the acceptance of the populace to these conservation measures, has not made the residents any poorer, but richer for it, despite the one million people or so, residing in the districts.
"This should be the benchmark," said Mannan. He said the core business of the Forestry Department was Sustainable Forest Management and Conservation.
"We cannot be embroiled in issues, including politics, that are not within our forte," he said.