State Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan said the conservation area of nearly 700,000 ha encompasses the Danum Valley, Maliau Basin and Imbak Canyon.
He said this was made possible after the state government upgraded more than 112,000 ha of biodiversity-rich lowland forests to Class I protection forest reserves on Nov 26, 2015. These previously had Class II (commercial) Forest Reserve status.
“From approximately 480,000 ha in 2014, this corridor of life is now 679,156.99 ha. Arguably, it is the biggest totally protected area in one conservation block in Malaysia,” he said.
Mannan said this block will include 69,454 ha of the “ecologically valuable” Kuamut Forest Reserve, which is “also being assessed for a carbon offset project”.
The remaining 47,017 ha of the Kuamut Forest Reserve – parts of which are undergoing reduced-impact log harvesting – will be added to the conservation block when the timber operations end on Dec 31, 2018.
Mannan said Sabah’s totally protected area now covers 1.78 million ha or 24% of the state’s land mass.
“This is in compliance with the government’s policy to have 30% of Sabah under a totally protected area by 2025,” he said.
He said Sabah’s conservation area had increased significantly since 2003 when Datuk Seri Musa Aman took over as Chief Minister. The totally protected area then had accounted for 842,597 ha or 11.45% of the land mass.
The exemplary actions of the state government, driven by the chief minister, will give Sabah a unique advantage in world tropical forest management, he added.
Accolades for the initiative have been received from around the world, including from the UK Royal Society South East Asia Programme.