Google Earth reveals stark contrast between Sarawak's damaged forests and those in neighboring Borneo states

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
March 28, 2011



Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with the healthy forest of Brunei
Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with the healthy forest of Brunei. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Images from Google Earth show a sharp contract between forest cover in Sarawak, a state in Malaysian Borneo, and the neighboring countries of Brunei and Indonesia at a time when Sarawak's Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud is claiming that 70 percent of Sarawak's forest cover is intact.

Google Earth images from GeoEye, TerraMetrics, Tele Atlas, Europa Technologies, and other providers show logging roads snaking across Sarawak's forest areas. Forests across international borders are substantially less impacted, as viewed on Google Earth.

The images seem to lend support to claims from environmentalists that Sarawak's forests have been heavily logged. Some groups estimate that Sarawak has lost 90 percent of its primary forest cover. Most of what remains is forest that has been selectively — but heavily — logged two or three times in the past 30 years. Some forest areas have been converted for timber, wood-pulp, and timber plantations.

Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with the healthy forest of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo)
Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthier forest in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Last week Chief Minister Taib said that 70 percent of Sarawak's rainforest is intact, while 14 percent of its "secondary forests" has been replanted or is in the process of being converted to plantations. Taib invited independent observers to assess Sarawak's forest cover.

"People can make many claims, but my government has been very deeply committed to sustainable management of our forest," he said in an interview with Sarawak Reports, a web site created earlier this month by the Chief Minister's supporters. "These are the simple facts and if people want to verify, they are welcome to Sarawak. I'll be open for... independent inspection and I have nothing to hide."

Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with the healthy forest of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo)
Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthy forest in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Taib has come under pressure in recent months from campaigners who have linked him and his family to hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of overseas properties. The holdings, which are uncleared and would seem to be illegally acquired, are believed to be tied to Taib's interests in the forestry sector.

The campaign against Taib has been led by the Clare Rewcastle Brown, the sister-in-law of British former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who helps run the Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak. Both outlets have come under heavy pressure from the government of Sarawak, which, together with logging companies which own publications like the Borneo Post, control much of the state's print media. Accordingly, Sarawak media has lately become very critical of the former British Prime Minister, who recently described the deforestation of Sarawak as "probably the biggest environmental crime of our times".

Lukas Straumann of the Bruno Manser Fund, a group that has long advocated on behalf of Sarawak's forest people, expressed doubt that Taib would follow through on his pledge to allow independent examination of Sarawak's forests.

"Taib has never allowed any foreign inspection of Sarawak's forests since the 1991 ITTO mission which had not turned out the way he had hoped. In particular, he has consistently refused ITTO to conduct a follow-up mission," he told mongabay.com.

"We know from satellite imagery that less than 10% (possibly less than 5%) of Sarawak's forests are still intact. Taib himself stated in 2001 that 90% of loggable trees had been cut so that the forestry industry needed to start looking out for new sources of timber."

According to state data, Sarawak's timber production peaked in the 1990s.

Sarawak forest
Sarawak and neighboring areas. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Sarawak forest
Sarawak and neighboring areas. Map courtesy of Google Maps.

Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthy forest in Brunei
Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthy forest in Brunei. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthy forest in Brunei
Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthy forest in Brunei. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthy forest in Brunei
Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthy forest in Brunei. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthy forest in Brunei
Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthy forest in Brunei. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthy forest in Brunei
Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthy forest in Brunei. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with the healthy forest of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo)
Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with healthier forest in East Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with the healthy forest of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo)
Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with rainforest in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with the healthy forest of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo)
Logging roads and damaged forest in Sarawak compared with the healthy forest of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Photo courtesy of Google Earth.















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CITATION:
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com (March 28, 2011).

Google Earth reveals stark contrast between Sarawak's damaged forests and those in neighboring Borneo states.

http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0328-sarawak_google_earth.html