The Sabah government is committed to increasing the extent of protected forests from the current 26 per cent to 30 per cent of land area by 2025. File pix by Johary Indan

KOTA KINABALU: A document has been inked for a landmark project which will increase the size of Sabah’s protected forest coverage to 30 per cent of the state’s total land area by 2025, from the current 26 per cent.

The ceremony, which took place yesterday at Cambridge, in the UK, saw the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) for the initiative.

The Department’s Chief Conservator of Forests, Datuk Sam Mannan, said the project will involve the protection of an additional one million acres (404,685 hectares) of rainforest in Sabah using world-class science.

The exact locations of the new areas have yet to be identified.

“Over the past 20 years, we have worked to increase the extent of protected forests in Sabah by a factor of five to almost 1.9 million hectares today – equivalent to 26 per cent of the state’s land area, surpassing even the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)’s Aichi targets.

“The Sabah government is committed to increasing the extent of protected forests from the current 26 per cent to 30 per cent of land area by 2025. This is the work that lies ahead of us,” he said in a statement released here.

The strategic partnership also includes the Carnegie Institution for Science, the PACOS Trust and the BC Initiative, he added.

Project lead coordinator Dr Glen Reynolds, who is the SEARRP director, explained that integrating the livelihood requirements of forest-dependent communities will be a vital consideration in the selection of the new protected areas.

“Led by our partners PACOS Trust and BC Initiative, the project will consult with local communities and stakeholders to generate cost-benefit options and reach consensus on an optimal scenario for rainforest protection,” Reynold added.

SEARRP was established by the UK’s Royal Society in 1985 and is headquartered at the Danum Valley Field Centre in Lahad Datu, which was newly-opened then.

For over 30 years, SEARRP-linked scientists based there, and supported by research grants of over US$50 million (RM219.45 million), have been engaged in a coordinated programme of ecological science which has enriched understanding of Sabah’s forests and the need for their conservation and restoration.

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