From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published March 31, 2011 07:10 AM

Big Problems in the Malaysian Forests

Nowhere is the problem of deforestation greater than in the tropical regions of the world. Specifically, Southeast Asia, which has vast tracts of primal rain forests, is at risk from excessive logging. Recently, governments in that region have come under pressure from environmentalists to conserve what forests they have left. Officials in the state of Sarawak, the Malaysian region of Borneo, have said that 70 percent of their forest cover has been preserved. However, after a review using Google Earth images, indications are that deforestation is much more widespread than is being claimed.


Google Earth, the free planet-viewing software from Google uses satellite images from various programs such as GeoEye and TerraMetrics. A study by the website, has revealed an intricate network of logging roads and cleared forests across Sarawak. Some have estimated that up to 90 percent of its primary forest cover has been logged. What is left has been logged several times in the past 30 years. Virgin forest has been converted to wood-pulp and timber plantations.

The Chief Minister of Sarawak, Taib, says only 14 percent of the region's forest has been converted to timber plantations. He has invited independent observers to assess the situation. "People can make many claims, but my government has been very deeply committed to sustainable management of our forest," he said in an interview with Sarawak Reports. "These are the simple facts and if people want to verify, they are welcome to Sarawak. I'll be open for... independent inspection and I have nothing to hide."

Unfortunately for Mr. Taib, satellite images are difficult to hide from. The images of Sarawak show a tremendous difference when compared to neighboring Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Now Taib is being pressured by campaigners who have linked him to a vast fortune of overseas properties. This undeclared and presumably illegal wealth is believed to stem from Taib's connection with Sarawak's logging companies.

The campaign against Taib is led by Clare Rewcastle Brown, relative of the former UK prime minister, Gordon Brown. She helps manage the Sarawak Report which has come under pressure by the government to halt their campaign. Lately, the Sarawak media has become especially critical, claiming that the deforestation is "probably the biggest environmental crime of our times."

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