The New Straits Times

26 Jan 2018
Rape normally solicits anger and uproar. But, a rape of another sort has been going on for some years, but neither anger nor uproar is heard.

Only thuds from felled timber, and that too, to ears that care to listen. Merbau, meranti and other premium woods are being illegally felled and smuggled out of the country in covered lorries under the shroud of darkness.

Run by syndicates of foreign plunderers with some help from greedy locals, they appear almost foolproof. We have travelled this trail before; we have witnessed their ruinous rampage earlier, too.

On Aug 15 last year, the deputy natural resources and environment minister told Dewan Negara that between 2006 and 2016, 256 illegal logging cases were recorded, which led to 229 arrests.

The Malaysia Civil Defense Force (APM) has prepared a comprehensive report with names and places where this dastardly acts are being perpetrated. It is not just the issue of loss of revenue, but the sustainability of the environment that is at stake here. This is a rape of our nation’s flora and fauna.

Many of our endangered animal species live in these threatened forests. The loss of logs today will cause the death of lives tomorrow. Forests protect us from the devastating effects of climate change by acting as a carbon sink, extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that 15 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation. On the economic front too, Malaysia loses millions to illegal logging. On Oct 27, 2014 this paper quoted an MACC task force set up to investigate illegal logging in Sarawak as saying that the state lost RM45 million in just four months.

We must not be passive witnesses. We must marshal our resources to fight this scourge that bedevils us, now and then. Because, if we lose this canopy, we lose a roof over our heads, so to speak.

For starters, we may need to tweak some laws to give them a better bite. Some integration and coordination among enforcement agencies may help turn the bark into bites.

Manpower may be an issue, but, we can call in aid unmanned machines such as drones to do some real-time monitoring at macro- and micro-levels. Our Forestry Department had already armed itself with this technology in 2016. More unmanned aerial vehicles will certainly help. Granted that half of Malaysia is covered by forests, it may be difficult to be at that many hot spots. But, drones can do what man cannot.

A leaf from the book of the United States Air Force may help, too. Their unmanned vehicles patrol the skies above Afghanistan but are controlled by pilots sitting in front of screens in the US thousands of kilometers away. Kandahar may not be Kuala Krai, but you get the drift.

These whirring machines can be the weapon of choice for our men who are fighting to keep the merbau and meranti where they are.

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