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Saving Sarawak Forests

A technology revolution for management and protection to curb illegal logging

Sarawak has a total landmass of 12.4 million hectares with 63% of it under forest cover, and huge steps are being taken to protect the State’s precious natural resources. Forest Department Sarawak (Forest Department) has achieved excellence in the management and conservation of tropical forests. It manages and develops forest resources for social-economic and environmental responsibility through various initiatives.

There are many challenges in managing such resources. In Sarawak, the geography makeup of the region makes it difficult for the implementation of forest management the traditional way. Factors such as harsh mountain terrains, numerous rivers and tributaries and in most cases, the poor conditions of the roads make access a nightmare.

Forest Department has taken many steps in the management of forests. One of it is by merging its objectives with the state-of-the-art facility, Sarawak’s very own Systems Application and Development Unit (SADU)– the first of its kind in Malaysia. It includes a dedicated rapid response team tasked to carry out day-to-day forest monitoring activities. The Rapid Strike team is a group of dedicated “forest warriors” aided by monitoring systems.

The heart and lifeline of the department is the war room, a centralised command Centre for the collection of on the-field data. These data are sent back for analysis as soon as possible (ASAP) so that a faster course of action can be taken.

One of the examples and a more efficient method of on-the-field data collection is the hyper-eye in the sky technology, also known as the Hyper Spectral technology sensor. The device is mounted on a fixed wing aircraft or a helicopter for a more comprehensive use in aerial monitoring. It works by picking up electromagnetic radiations reflected from the canopy below. This produces high-resolution images. It had been a difficult and time consuming task previously as back then survey works were done using on-the-ground methods.

The device has other uses as well. Particularly important is the detection and mapping of illegal logging activities in the jungles of the region. This significantly minimises illegal logging. The equipment can be used to detect oil palm trees that are infected with the fungus Ganoderma Boneninse, which causes rotting of the Basel stem of the tree and can lead to huge financial losses for plantation owners. Another usage is to determine special tree species composition where highly prized species like the dark aromatic heartwood tree is also monitored using this similar method. This particular tree species produces a special resin that is used in perfume-making, pharmaceutical and furniture industry.

Sarawak Forest Department’s efforts have been acknowledged through numerous collaborations and sharing of expertise. The department received a visit from the First Secretary of Defence, British High Commissioner

Singapore in December 2011 (geospatial data centre). In March 2012, a group of researchers from Japan visited the State to gain insight on how forest management is done here. That same year the department was invited by the United Nations Development Programme and the Korea Forest Service to share their expertise on the use of Biomass (carbon measuring tool) at the National University of Seoul, Korea.

Current researches include on-the-field sensing approach for legality verification for logs, a spatial assessment of soil characteristics in mangrove and Resource Assessment Applications such as mixed Dipterocarp forest spectral database.

The drive to protect the land is testament of the Forest Department of Sarawak’s commitment in the management and conservation of forests in the region, for the benefit of future generations.

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