The Case For Greater Ulu Muda


The Case For Greater Ulu Muda

Ulu Muda forest in Kedah provides an invaluable environmental service to northern Peninsular Malaysia - as a water catchment area and for biodiversity conservation. But as of today, the 160,000 hectar forest has yet to be gazetted as a protected area, leaving the pristine ecosystem vulnerable to deforestation and logging. Sharaad Kuttan, who recently travelled to Ulu Muda, shares his insights.

The creation of a Greater Ulu Muda State Park turns on several straightforward propositions that if ignored will have a significant impact not only on the environment – from water resources, food security to ecological diversity – but also the question of governance involving Federal-State as well as interstate relations.

Ulu Muda and five contiguous reserves make up the Greater Ulu Muda (GUM) in Kedah, bordering Thailand and represents a catchment area for reservoirs that feed into rivers that are a significant to the water needs for, not only Kedah but Penang and Perlis.

While the land and natural resources of GUM are revenue for the state of Kedah, the extractive industries of logging, sand mining, mass tourism have a detrimental effect on GUM as a catchment area.

Protecting Ulu Muda Forest Reserve

We need to understand the complex ecology of ‘water catchments’ forests to understand why this is so. Part of this complex ecology are the mega-fauna of GUM (its elephants, big cats and so on).

The current status of the five reserves do not provide sufficient protection for this complex ecological system.

And so a campaign – raising awareness, engaging stakeholders etc – has been on-going to discuss the urgency of redesignating Ulu Muda as a State or a National (Federal) park. The difference being who has control as well as financial responsibility for the park.

In terms of bio-diversity, Malaysia is ranked 12th globally but a little over 1000 species within our borders are endangered. This puts a huge ecological and ethical burden on us – an issue that needs wider public consideration.

Time for Beneficiaries to Assist Kedah in Conserving Ulu Muda

The presence of Asian elephants in GUM and the Peninsula is testament to a complex history that has kept the central spine reasonably pristine.

Elephants are also crucial to the maintenance of the complex ecology of the forests which ultimately provides the best ‘catchment area’ for the water needs of the three north-western states.

So why hasn’t GUM become a State Park?

Well, re-designating GUM as a State Park would mean a loss of revenue for the state of Kedah. This is has been acknowledged in the past by the Federal government (with a sum of 100 million annually proposed as compensation), but nothing was actually forthcoming.

There is an urgent need to find a solution to the status of the Greater Ulu Muda, with both the Federal and State governments keeping a firm eye on the future.