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Tuesday March 23, 2004

A park for the people
By MICHAEL CHEANG

The spectacular Klang Gates ridge – a world-class geological monument – stands tall as a unique site in the proposed Selangor state park. The park, which will showcase the country’s rich biodiversity and geological history, will ultimately serve as a people’s park for education, recreation and heritage preservation. 

SELANGOR may be the most rapidly developing state in Malaysia, but it is not without its natural beauty. There is still a substantial area of rainforest in the state which forms part of the country’s rich bio-diversity and geological history.  

Home to a myriad species of flora and fauna, these forests also play a major role in our lives, providing vital water catchments that contribute to the dwindling water resources of Selangor. 

Being the development hotspot that it is, water catchments in the state could be severely reduced in the future if something is not done to save them.  

In view of the importance of the state’s natural resources, the Selangor state government has initiated the setting up of the Selangor State Park. The proposed park covering an area of 113,000 ha, forms a belt along the eastern flank of Selangor, reaching into the foothills of the southernmost portion of the Main Range. 

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The management plan for the state park comes from local environmental non-governmental organisation, Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES). Along with the Town and Country Planning Department of Selangor (JPBD), they play a facilitating and coordinating role in the project. Although TrEES is one of the coordinators, the project is very much a state-driven initiative with funding from the state government and the British High Commission which chipped in 60,000 (RM420,000). 

TrEES director Leela Panikkar says the proposal is still in its initial stage, and an intensive study of the proposed area is being carried out to determine the scope of the park. 

“We have been collecting data for the entire area, for example, the existing infrastructure, areas at risk of erosion, the wildlife distribution, and our water sources. We will combine this with existing data and integrate it into a map so we can see clearly what we have on hand, and how we’re going to manage it,” Leela explains.  

“Since the study was launched last October, we have been busy gathering infomation. We want to know where the highest biodiversity is, the water catchment areas, special geological features, and the like. We can only decide what the future state park will be like after we have determined these factors.” 

Conservation of nature 

The proposed Selangor State Park can play a key role in the conservation of lowland rainforests. In terms of biodiversity, Malaysia’s lowland rainforests have among the highest concentration of flora and fauna in the world. 

“The lowland forest is the richest among all the different forest types found in our region,” says Dr Wong Khoon Meng, associate professor of the Institute of Biological Sciences in Universiti Malaya.  

“Malaysia’s tropical rainforests harbour many rare species, but it is not always possible to bring them out of their natural habitat and keep them in gardens and parks for conservation purposes. Sometimes one species is so dependent on another that the best way to conserve it is to leave it in its natural habitat.” 

Since Selangor is the gateway to Malaysia, to have it barren of the very icons of the tropical world that we claim to represent would not paint a green picture for foreign tourists. Thus having a state park would greatly boost eco-tourism in the state. 

According to Wong, the Hulu Gombak area is easily accessible and has great potential for eco-tourism. It is a beautiful valley that is suitable for scientific studies and an ideal site to encourage people to learn about nature. However, existing developments devoted to eco-tourism are rather scattered and uncoordinated – something that Wong hopes the state park would remedy when it is established. 

“The state park will help us save the most significant portions of rainforest that are left. A lot of that may have been lost due to development in the Klang Valley, but fortunately we still have some of these areas along the flanks of the main range and in the different areas that have been proposed for conservation,” says Wong. “Without this green belt, our environment would be greatly altered in terms of water resources and temperature range.” 

The preservation of these lowland rainforests is crucial in view of the encroachment of human settlements, construction of highways, logging, as well as agricultural plantations.  

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Project on track 

“It will be two and a half years before the land is gazetted, and we want everything to be in place and ready to run by the time the state park is announced,” says Leela. 

In the meantime, development activities within the study area will be monitored closely. JPBD chief deputy director Yunos Kashib says the JPBD has guidelines for development, and any proposal to develop the land will have to go through them first.  

“Selangor’s land is very valuable now. The Hulu Klang area is one of the most sensitive areas in the Klang Valley because of its potential for development and the higher demand for land compared to Hulu Langat or Hulu Selangor,” says Yunos.  

Nevertheless, some parts of the study area may already have been given over to private owners. In such cases, the JPBD will try to encourage the landowners to run activities that are suitable to the area. “We will try to determine what activity is best for the private land and will not harm the environment,” says Yunos. “That is where the current study comes in because we want correct information before we gazette the area and tell the land owners what to do with their land.” 

Ultimately, TrEES and JPBD hope that the state park will not just remain a government project, but one that the residents of Selangor can be involved in. “Everyone needs water and clean air. The forest is important to all of us, so everyone should have the same commitment to save the forests,” says Leela. 

In the course of planning the state park, TrEES and JPBD will be organising workshops and forums for stakeholders and members of the public to give their opinions and comments on the plan.  

“We will provide the opportunity for the public to speak up,” says Leela. “Everyone must be proactive where the state park is concerned. We want to know what people think; we value their comments too.” 

“Ultimately, we want to turn this into a park for the people, one that can be used for education, recreation and heritage preservation. At the same time, we want the people to feel that they own the park, and it is part of their heritage,” says Yunos.

Copyright 1995-2004 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd

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