BUKIT FRASER: The big boom in demand for durians from China is proving to be a thorny issue with many residents here and in Raub.
For some months now, residents in Fraser’s Hill, some 8km from Raub have spotted clearing and open burning activities on a hilltop in the Hulu Sempam area.
The 404-ha plot, which borders the Batu Talam Forest Reserve that is also a water catchment area, is being cleared for a Musang King plantation.
Even more worrying is that a logging licence has also been awarded for another piece of land adjacent to the plot.
Clearly visible from the scenic tourist spot Fraser’s Hill, the Hulu Sempam is popular as a hiking spot as well as the area where Sg Sempam – which eventually joins up to Sg Pahang – runs through.
Identified as Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) Rank 1 in the Pahang Structural Plan 2050 draft, the surrounding areas have been marked as a confirmed habitat for the critically endangered Malayan tiger, of which there is less than 300 estimated in the wild.
It is believed that the cleared plot is only part of some 1,213ha of land which will eventually be razed for Musang King plantation.
The elevation of the cleared area in Hulu Sempam ranges between 400m-900m above sea level.
A check with the Pahang Forestry Department confirmed that the land was being cleared for Musang King by a state government entity.
Shown a drone picture of the land clearing, its director Datuk Dr Mohd Hizamri Mohd Yasin confirmed that the area cleared was for Musang King.
“The project on that site does not need permission from the Forestry Department.”
“The project is owned by the Perbadanan Setiausaha Kerajaan (a state-linked company),” he said.
Indicating another area nearby, Dr Mohd Hizamri said a logging license had been issued for the state government land measuring some 161.88ha.
He insisted that both plots of land involved were outside the forest reserve and the water catchment area.
According to environmental group, Peka, the degazettement of the land was legal, which had seen 404ha planted with Musang King durian trees under the first phase.
“Phase two, which will see 809ha being cleared for Musang King, is currently in progress,” it said.
It said the Sg Sempam water plant was for the Raub district.
WWF-Malaysia said the area was within the catchment of Sg Sempam.
“Sg Sempam and Sg Yet which pass through this area are important tributaries of Sg Lipis that eventually flows to Sg Pahang.
“Water provision is one of the most vital ecosystem services provided by Fraser’s Hill and the surrounding forest as it is the headwaters of the Sg Pahang river basin (spanning an area of 29,300 km²). Most of the tributaries emerge from the Main Range,” said Siti Zuraidah Abidin, the Protected Areas Lead in Peninsular Malaysia Terrestrial Conservation Programme.
She said under the Pahang Structural Plan 2050 draft, the area had been identified for agricultural purposes.
“However, in the same plan, the area is also identified as Environmentally Sensitive Area Rank 1.
“For ESA areas Rank 1, development, agriculture or logging is not allowed, except for ecotourism, research and education.
“In our opinion, we consider this area as Environmentally Sensitive Area Rank 1 due to its important function as a water catchment forest, even though it may not be legally recognised as one,” she said.