KOTA KINABALU - A special task force is being set up to reclaim river banks illegally cultivated by planters, especially in Sabah's eastern Kinabatangan region, said the state's Tourism, Culture and Environment assistant minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming.
"This initiative, fully supported by state (Environment) Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun, is the precursor of many more to come," he said during an event to remove 8ha of cash crops that had been illegally planted.
The move on Sunday was facilitated by the sustainable tourism and conservation initiative under the Batu Puteh Community Eco-tourism Co-operative (Kopel) and the Danau Girang Field Centre research and conservation organisation.
In the place of cash crops, tree species that are native to Sabah will be planted along the river banks.
Sabah planters, especially those who are not signatories to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, are notorious for utilising their land right up to the water's edge, in violation of laws requiring natural vegetation on both sides of the river to be left intact to serve as a buffer against surface runoff, as well as a corridor for wildlife.
Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens said it was indeed a historic moment for Sabah.
"We are extremely proud to be part of this initiative, and to work together with Kopel and the Sabah Wildlife Department to make a difference for the future generation," he said.
Dr Benoit said talk about riparian reserve encroachment has been going on for many years, and to see action finally taken is most gratifying.
"We will support all the relevant parties in their restoration work and assist with the research by studying forest recovery and monitoring the return of wildlife in the riparian reserve," he said.