“Not In My Backyard” Attitude Of M’sians When It Comes To Preserving Trees
Published on Tuesday, 13 March 2018 08:36
Last week, a tragic incident of a fallen tree that had collapsed on a motorcycle and its pillion rider along Jalan Ampang had social media abuzz.
The mishap which saw the tree falling on a couple passing by on a motorcycle left the motorcyclist in critical condition. A witness to the incident said to local media that the tree had not been uprooted by a heavy vehicle but had fallen by itself.
When a tree could fall by itself, it could only mean the root is rotten. In a statement issued, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) said the rotting root of the tree had affected its growth which made it unstable and could easily be uprooted.
According to the DBKL statement, the tree was of the samanea saman species and was more than 130 years old with a trunk diameter of 4.65 meters. These trees were planted along Jalan Ampang during the colonial era, which is among the earliest roads constructed in Kuala Lumpur.
Trees along Jalan Ampang are maintained according to schedule which is twice a year where last year, it was carried out from April 1 until 30 and Dec 11 until 27, the statement from DBKL states.
But is that enough?
Last year on 5 May, a Form Five student was killed when the motorcycle he was riding was struck by a falling tree branch while he was on his way to school at Jalan Ayer Molek.
Malacca Tengah District Police Chief ACP Shaikh Abdul Adzis Shaikh Abdullah said Mohamamad Nor Danial Mohd Khir, 17, a student of Sekolah Menengah Seri Kota here, died at the scene at 7.30am due to severe head injuries and that his body was sent to the Malacca Hospital for a post-mortem.
Today, we have environmentalists clashing with local authorities as they protest against any move to cut down trees to widen roads or improve access. While historical buildings cannot escape the ravages of urban development, old trees are also facing the chop no matter how rich their heritage value may be.
As Klang Valley faces rapid urbanization, can a proactive approach be taken to preserve our nation’s heritage trees without endangering the public and do Malaysians even understand the significance of it all?
How Other Countries Are Managing Heritage Trees
We spoke to Adrian Yeo, who is one of the founders of #PowerShiftMsia which is a climate change movement initiated by youths, for youths. The group organizes activities that engages with various movements to generate momentum towards clean renewable energy sources and a safe climate future for our youths.
Adrian offered his thoughts on the Jalan Ampang tree incident. A heritage tree refers to one with significant value typically in terms of age, size, related event or unique location, and is considered irreplaceable. In other and neighbouring countries, efforts are made to preserve and appreciate this monumental botany.
A quick glance at the efforts of other cities towards treasuring heritage trees reveals how far we are lagging behind in this aspect.
As an example, in Portland, USA, the city council recognises “trees of unique size, age, historical or horticultural significance” as heritage trees. They are listed in database and designated with plaques, and cannot be removed without consent from relevant authorities.
In Greater Manchester in the United Kingdom, there is a heritage tree project to celebrate, record and protect trees, under its City of Trees movement. The public are encouraged to not just identify heritage trees, but also to share their memories of them.
Singapore protects mature trees from its rapid development with the Heritage Tree Scheme introduced in 2001, which invites nominations from the public and gives all the necessary care to ensure the trees’ well-being. To-date, 260 trees have been included in Singapore’s Heritage Tree Register.
As Malaysia aspires towards a developed nation status, ensuring a safe climate legacy for future generations, it is our collective responsibility and that includes preservation of heritage trees.
How do we ensure that the environment is looked after without unnecessarily putting human lives in danger?
“Not In My Backyard” Culture
According to Adrian, there are already local Acts in place to ensure best practices. He points out that we have the Act 172 – Town And Country Planning Act 1976, under Part Va Tree Preservation Order and how the local council (DBKL) is responsible to plan, protect, and preserve all trees within their jurisdiction.
We also have the Arborist Association Malaysia, Malaysian Landscape Department, FRIM and to some extend Forestry Department, to assist the Local Council with expert advice in discharging the tasks of protecting these trees, he added.
“The question now is why are these bodies not consulted, the tree and governance are left to rot,” asked Adrian. Just like any sickness, once detected early, the chances of successful treatment is higher.
The author of #PowerShiftMsiaMsia also points out that we still have citizens who are typically “NIMB (not in my backyard) culture” in mindset.
He points out that many people want the convenience without making the effort to make it sustainable, like those who demand for large shady trees (for their cars) that do not shed its leaves (dirty their cars), that do not flower (attracting bees), that do not fruit (attracting monkeys and ants), that their roots do not grow (will spoil drain and road) and that do not fall.
This puts the local council in a catch, and planting trees to them is such high risk.
“Once upon a time, you have local councils planting palm trees all over, but they are now being stopped due to the hazard of the falling leaves and branches.
“Moving forward, I would suggest the local council to fully enforce the measures provided in the Act 172, which is first to inventorize all trees systematically within their jurisdiction. Secondly, prioritise the heritage and endangered trees by giving them a special tree protection.
“Thirdly, local council to provide sufficient funding and resources to plan, manage and preserve these trees. We may even see a spinoff tourism product of a Heritage Tree Tour of the City if done correctly,” suggested Adrian.
“Once upon a time, we call the nation our ‘home’. Then due to the uncertainties of war, we narrow our ‘home’ to only to our kampung, taman or village.
“But today, we only limit our definition of ‘home’ to our front door. Beyond that is other people’s problem,” said Adrian, adding how the general public as a whole must start participating more in community programmes.
“This culture of not caring also creeps into the handling of environmental issues. Someone else will protect the forest, someone else will clean the river, someone else will cut carbon emission. The reality is that we need everyone’s effort to do it, and make that change today,” he relayed.
Adrian also provides us a list of how we can move forward and be progressive with environmental issues:
The government has to perform the public engagements/consultations meaningfully and not just as a tick off their list by putting in extra effort in informing and reaching out to local communities before any consultation is executed.
Meaningful Engagements should be widely carried out by publicising the matter at hand way on an advance level.
The information needs to be public friendly and not filled with industry jargons and terms that makes no sense to the locals on the street, as well as providing historical background, related policies and laws in plain, simple languages and infographics that anyone can comprehend.
Such information, engagement and feedbacks should be made available online.
“Only when the above are done and the youth and public’s opinions are taken into serious considerations, then hopefully, we will trust the government in taking the appropriate actions as well as seeing an increase in participation from the public,” he added.
“We Need More Arborists To Share Their Expertise And Knowledge With Our Leaders, Local Authorities, And The Public” – Lee Lam Thye
Renowned social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, who needs no introduction for his wealth of contribution towards the environment and community welfare shared his deep insights with Malaysian Digest as to how we can better preserve the green gems of our country.
When it comes to preserving our heritage and big trees, we should emulate such efforts and introduce a legislation that could help protect heritage trees, he said.
“I believe that with proper planning, management and strict legislation, advance technology and advices from agencies such as the Forest Research Institute Malaysia and other tree experts and arborists, we could ensure the old trees that line some of the main roads are properly managed, maintained and made safe.”
Lee, who is the chairman of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and a former member of the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) Advisory Board said all local authorities must set up a dedicated department or unit to help ensure that the trees are regularly inspected and pruned so that they do not obstruct traffic lights, road signs, and other public amenities.
“Overgrown trees and shrubs that block road signs will endanger the lives of road users and pedestrians who are plying the route. For those who already had such a dedicated unit, they must beef it up by ensuring that it has a full inventory of trees under their jurisdiction by utilising an online database.
“It was reported that the National Landscape Department had developed the e-landscape system which could help local councils manage their inventory of trees and maintenance of landscape. We must also improve the level of understanding on tree maintenance among the councils, which is still very low. There is a need to develop holistic courses and modules that cover all types of skills in tree maintenance while new machinery should be used to help uproot, transfer or replant the affected trees.
“The local authorities must also adopt strict maintenance culture to ensure the trees are healthy and kept safe, since inclement weather such as downpours and storms could result in uprooted trees or falling branches.”
He points out that experts, in this case arborists need to be recruited to better protect mature trees by taking into account the social, environmental and health (physical) factors of the tree.
According to local media, Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) senior research officer Adnan Mohammad said highlighting the value of a tree in dollars and cents helped create better awareness of its preservation to a certain extent.
Lee opines how we need more arborists to share their expertise and knowledge with our leaders, local authorities and the public as they could help explain the intrinsic value of these heritage trees and why it’s important to preserve them.
“We want the people to regard these trees as our heritage, not only in terms of dollars and cents, but their significance as the proof of our effort to preserve a balanced ecosystem. If we focus too much on the economic aspect, people may assume that we can always replace the old trees with new ones which are easier to maintain and more beautiful.”
Most cities in the country would sacrifice precious huge trees due to lack of awareness. If the City Hall just chops down trees whenever the public pressures them, then Kuala Lumpur will lose out a lot in the long run.
“Our local authorities should adopt the best practices. With the help of arborists, the local authorities could have a complete database or registry of trees under their jurisdiction and the condition of each of them.
“They must also help educate the public on the importance of these heritage trees so that they could act as the eyes and ears for the local authorities. We must always find the best possible way to preserve existing trees. If they have to be chopped down for important projects such as the construction of school, hospital or roads, they should then be replanted in other areas.
Lee also pointed out how some of the trees that were affected during the construction of the KLCC were temporarily replanted at a nursery before they were brought back and replanted at the KLCC recreational park when the construction works were completed.
“This effort proves that these trees can be preserved if there’s a political will and awareness among those involved,” he concluded.
Published on 13th March – Malaysian Digest Link