The Forest Restoration Programme in Bukit Piton Forest Reserve (Class I), Sabah, Malaysia
Bornean Orangutan in the Heart of Borneo
Bukit Piton Forest Reserve (Class I protection forest), or previously known as North Ulu Segama (NUS) is part of Ulu Segama Malua Forest Reserve in the Heart of Borneo (HoB). It is one of the many heavily logged forest areas in Sabah. Past poor harvesting techniques and forest fires have degraded the quality and value of this forest, making it vulnerable for conversion to agricultural land, especially oil palm plantations. Once conversion occurs, all forest-dependent biodiversity will be lost including prospects for any forest restoration. As substantial number of wild orang-utans in Borneo live in areas like Bukit Piton Forest Reserve, usually outside protected forests, this also spells disaster for their survival and may lead to possible extinction in the long run if no efforts are made to restore and conserve their habitats.
WWF-Malaysia is working through its Sabah and HoB programmes to restore and rehabilitate the forests in Sabah with the primary aim of increasing habitats for orang-utan and for protecting other forest biodiversity. Aerial surveys of the reserve carried out in 2007 showed a considerable population of orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus morio) (listed since 2000, as endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species), concentrated in this area which is surrounded mostly by oil palm plantations. Therefore, WWF-Malaysia focused on this area for restoration aiming to increase forest cover and thus the reproduction and survival of the Orangutans.
Increasing the value of degraded forests
Through its forest restoration work, WWF-Malaysia aims to increase the economic value and ecological functions of degraded forest areas to:
- Deter the demand for conversion of such land for commercial agricultural purposes;
- Enhance the carrying capacity of forests in supporting a high density of Orang-utans;
- Provide evidence that forest restoration can bring back to good health to the severely degraded commercial forest reserves in Sabah; and
- Produce a report on all known degraded forest areas in Sabah (especially areas important to orang-utans and other threatened species) requiring restoration work part of the programme is a proposal to the Sabah government to implement a State-wide forest restoration programme.
Restoring the forests
Working alongside Sabah Forestry Department, open and exposed areas are being planted with fast growing pioneer species such as Binuang (Octameles sumatrana) and Laran (Neolamarckia cadamba). In areas shaded by forest canopies, shade tolerant species are planted, mostly Dipterocarps. Tree species known to produce fruits edible to orang-utans such as Sengkuang (Dracontomelon dao), Terap (Arthocarpus sp) and Figs (Ficus sp) are being planted too.
The 2,400 hectares to be restored by WWF are located on the northern bank of the the Segama River. Bukit Piton Forest Reserve is one of the three areas (the other two being Malua Forest Reserve and Ulu Sungai Danum) within Ulu Segama Malua Forest Reserve which qualifies to be part of the forst restoration programme.
Key achievements so far
- To date, out of 2,400 ha area committed to be restored by WWF-Malaysia and Sabah Forestry Deparment, 2,058 ha have obtained funding support. As of June 2013, out of this 2,058 ha, 1,710 ha have been fully planted.
- Field surveys have indicated that the Orangutans have expanded their area of use due to increasing tree cover in restored areas, thus demonstrating the benefit of forest restoration for Orangutans.
- Forest restoration projects in Bukit Piton Forest Reserve/North Ulu Segama have given opportunities to local communities in the area (particularly in Kampung Segama, Tampenau and Silam) to promote forest restoration and rehabilitation of orang-utan habitat by participating in Sabah Forestry Departments programme; which encourages the local community to own tree seedling nurseries as supplies for forest restoration projects in Bukit Piton Forest Reserve. The local community will then be able to sell matured tree seedlings to the tree planting contractors in Bukit Piton Forest Reserve.
- Studies on feeding, nesting behaviour, and home ranges of orang-utans have been conducted, providing baseline data to enable comparative studies in the future when forest habitats are fully restored and functioning naturally.
- Worked collaboratively with main government stakeholder partners, especially Sabah Forestry Department, to enhance collective skills in forest restoration, using practised forest restoration techniques.
- In August 2012, North Ulu Segama was reclassified from a Class II commercial to a Class I protection Forest Reserve by the State Government of Sabah, and was renamed as Bukit Piton Forest Reserve. Class I forest reserves have the highest category of protection for biodiversity and ecosystem services under the States Forest Enactment Act(1984). This means that it is protected by law from any form of land conversion, timber exploitation or extraction of any forest products. The only activities permitted are for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation.
*This article is adapted from Heart of Borneo Factsheet 2012