KOTA KINABALU - A comprehensive plan is being drawn up for the sustainable use of land in Sabah's interior that is about 10 times the size of Penang island.
The ambitious plan would place an area of at least 260,000ha, including key conservation areas as well as land being used as forest and oil palm plantations, under a "common and integrated" strategy.
The Forestry Department recently placed advertisements calling for consortiums or companies to provide experts specialising in landscape modelling and environmental economy for the project.
Sabah Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan said the project was crucial as it encompassed a land mass connecting three key protected areas.
These are the 105,443ha Maliau Basin, Danum Valley (42,800ha) and Imbak Canyon (16,750ha).
The project also partly covers the Kalabakan and Gunung Rara forest reserves that are part of the state-owned Yayasan Sabah sustainable forest management licence agreement area.
"Among the things we want to see under this project is the providing of corridors of forests in this area connecting Danum, Imbak Canyon and Maliau Basin for the benefit of wildlife," said Mannan, whose department is spearheading the project.
Called the Biodiversity Conservation in Multiple-use Forest Landscapes, the plan would address multiple uses of the land to ensure that any activities there were sustainable.
Apart from the three conservation zones, the area would also include parcels of land that had been earmarked for forest rehabilitation, timber production as well as industrial tree plantations including oil palm cultivation.
"We are confident that what we are doing in Sabah can eventually become a model for other areas in South-East Asia," Mannan said.
He said the project, which kicked off in 2012 and would continue for six years, was being partly funded by the United Nations Development Programme's Global Environment Facility (UNDP-GEF).
Mannan said the department was working with Malaysian experts in the respective fields as well as the Royal Society of Britain and other groups in drawing up the strategies for the plan.
Considered Sabah's "Lost World", Maliau Basin contains an unusual assembly of 12 forest types.
They comprise mainly lower montane forest type that is dominated by majestic Agathis trees and the rare montane heath forest type and lowland type. There is also the seven-tier Maliau Falls.
Danum Valley which is home to animal species like the Borneo pygmy elephants, clouded leopards and five species of deer, is a rainforest dating back 130 million years.
Prince William and his wife had visited both Maliau Basin and Danum Valley when they visited Malaysia in 2012.