Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: A report that says Malaysia is destroying its forests at three times the rate of the rest of Asia has been questioned by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Douglas Unggah Embas. Malaysian Nature Society president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed is also sceptical of the figure. The report is prepared by Wetlands International and Sarvision – Dutch remote sensing institute.
Prof Mohamed raised doubts over the conclusion that Malaysia’s rate of deforestation was higher than neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and said data derived solely from satellite imagery or GIS may not be accurate. “From the sky, even rubber trees may look like forest; how can you be sure satellite imagery is able to accurately distinguish between land cleared for replanting and land that is being deforested?”
Prof Mohamed said reports using aerial imagery would have to involve ground verification, which involves the use of ground surveys to confirm the findings of an aerial survey or to calibrate quantitative aerial observations.
However, Wetlands International global advocacy and communications manager Alex Kaat said satellite imagery was a reliable method of distinguishing between vegetation used for crops and other types of forest areas. “We used a very conservative estimation methodology. Nobody has so far questioned us about the data; in fact, many were surprised at the rapid loss of peat swamp cover.” He precisely mentioned that ground survey was done through local partner organisations, including the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association and the Borneo Resources Institution.
“Malaysia is in a state of denial; it never provides reliable maps and tries to disqualify good work done on gathering deforestation data,” Kaat added. The methodology used in the study, Kaat said, had involved the use of satellite imagery with a 0.6-1m spatial resolution covering the entirety of Sarawak from 2005 to last year, which was cross-referenced against soil maps and new palm oil concession data.
“It is very easy to see whether something is forest, a timber plantation or an oil palm plantation before and after,” Niels Wielaard of SarVision said. “It can also irrefutably show logging patterns inside national park boundaries, for example. This very high imagery was the main basis for our accuracy assessment,” he said.