FOREST RESTORATION PROJECT
MESCOT’s Forest Restoration Project aims to restore degraded and fragmented habitat areas of the Supu Forest Reserve, part of an important forested corridor along the Lower Kinabatangan River that has been heavily impacted by fires and uncontrolled logging in recent decades. This protected reserve surrounds the four villages of the Batu Puteh community, and supports numerous rare and threatened bird and mammal species, including the endangered orang-utan.MESCOT began its reforestation efforts in 1999, after helping to fight the drought-induced fires that ravaged the Supu Forest Reserve in April 1998, further fragmenting already degraded habitat. In the process, MESCOT volunteers were able to save three local orang-utans as well as help numerous other species to escape the fire. After this experience, MESCOT began a concentrated reforestation effort in the area with the goal of restoring critical wildlife habitat corridors and unbroken canopy for the orang-utan as well as other wildlife, including ten other species of primate that inhabit the region.MESCOT’s effort was the first of its kind to try to rehabilitate a degraded lowland floodplain rainforest in the Kinabatangan, where much of the area is susceptible to flooding. Thus, a lot of the early work was experimental to determine the types of forests present, which species of trees to plant in the different soil and hydrological zones to best accomplish forest regeneration, flowering and fruiting cycles, germination techniques, and suitable conditions and methods for successfully planting and growing the seedlings.
Based on this ecological knowledge and the restoration techniques it developed, MESCOT began an ambitious 3-year reforestation effort in 2006, with the help of LEAP and funding from the Alexander Abraham Foundation. The first year involved team building and site-selection, as well as removal of vines, seed collection and establishment of a nursery. In 2007, planting, silviculture and maintenance efforts began. Approximately 40,000 trees were planted over 4 hectares in 2007, and approximately 20,000 trees have been planted over 2 hectares so far in 2008. Unfortunately, 2008 was a very wet year resulting in delayed flowering and seeding for many tree species, but after a large flowering event in August, the project was able to collect sufficient seeds to continue planting through the remainder of the year. These new seeds are currently germinating in the nursery.
Silviculture activities are also ongoing, focused mainly on removal of the thick tangle of vines and weeds. A 50-hectare area has been cleared so far. This has proved to be a very important part of the restoration, as removal of the vines has enabled both the natural penetration and germination of seeds in the cleared areas, and the successful growth of these seeds as well as transplanted seedlings from the project’s nursery into young trees.
In 2008, LEAP also began working to bridge communications between MESCOT and the Sabah Forestry Department. This resulted in a key meeting between those parties in Sandakan, further empowering the local communities and potentially leading to future beneficial partnerships with Sabah Forestry Department.