Mixed views on S’gor’s proposal of a jungle trail through the Central Forest Spine

File photo of a Malayan tiger. The deep rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia or the Central Forest Spine (CFS) is home to the endangered species, whose numbers have been reduced to l50 as of 2022 compared with 3,000 in the 50s.

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30: The Selangor state government’s proposal to build a 120 km trail across the Central Forest Spine (CFS) for tourism purpose has received mixed views from several environmentalists – from downright objection to more accommodating views that it “might work with strict adherence to boundaries set.”

Just what is the CFS?

It is the forests of Peninsular Malaysia, said to be the oldest forest on earth, and is divided into four main forest complexes, covering a total area of 5.3 million hectares, encompassing over eight states; Pahang, Johor, Perak, Terengganu, Selangor, Kelantan, Kedah, and Negeri Sembilan.

It is also called the peninsular’s Green Lung – due to its ability in storing carbon from being released into our atmosphere. It provides sanctuary for endangered species such as the Malayan tiger, Malayan sun bear, Malayan tapir, Asian elephants and many more. As a part of the Sundaland biodiversity hotspot, it harbours a myriad of identified wildlife, plant and microorganism species contributing to the country’s megadiverse status. It also serves irreplaceable ecosystem services such as water supply, climate regulation, soil protection and eliviates flood risks among many others.

Marking its importance, the government gave the area the official name of CFS and placed it as a national asset under the 1st National Plan.

The Selangor State Government proposal

The Malay Mail on Nov 28 reported the Selangor government’s plans to create a 120-kilometre long trail across the CFS from Hulu Selangor to Hulu Langat as a new tourist attraction in the state.

Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari had said it would be part of the state’s plan to declare the permanent forest reserves (HSK) as Selangor Royal Heritage Forest (HWDS), as a tourist location for nature lovers who are into hiking and jungle-trekking activities. He said the proposed road covering 120km had been planned by the Selangor State Forestry Department (JPNS).

He had also said there would be a control mechanism in the number of tourists who would be allowed onto the trail.

To cut or not to cut the trail accross the CFS?

President of Protection of Natural Heritage of Malaysia, Damien Thanam Divean held the view that the plan had benefits and also a downside.

Among the good things proposed by the state government for this trail is the plan to limit the number of people going there, mirroring the Forest Research Institute o Malaysia (FRIM)’s use of app to apply permission to enter.

It will also create love for forest among the people, while generating revenue for the state.

On the other side, the negative impacts include the formation of businesses at the trail like F&B stalls, introduction of trash in these forest complex by irresponsible visitors, and the removal of flora and fauna.

There must be an efficient enforcement plan that must be developed and tested.

Damien also suggested that the trails be opened slowly and not the whole 120km in full.

Naturalist Andrew Sebastian held similar views, saying that it would be inevitable that the trail will be accompanied by other buildings, which will contribute towards littering in the forest and so on.

Another environmentalist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said such a trail will defeat all purpose of having a forest reserve area that is not disturbed by human activities.

“They serve a purpose and disturbing these areas may remove the natural barriers and buffers that these forests offer to the rest of the peninsular from clean water, carbon emissions removals and thriving ecosystems.”

He also expresssed concerns about the growing number of conflicts between wild animals and humans, saying that a forest trail in the CFS will be an encroachment into the habitat of protected animals like the Malayan tiger. While the Federal Government is campaigning to save the tiger, such a trail will be a direct encroachment into their habitat, he opined.

He also said there were many existing forest trails in the Selangor state that could be promoted to tourists.

Many are operated by the forest department and there have also been community backed forest trails that had been threatened by proposed development plans.

“These forest trails should be preserved and people in the state and tourists should be encouraged to get the feeling of love of the Malaysian forest through these trails.”