The earliest available record of Forestry in Malaya is a report in 1879 by Major McNAIR, Colonial Engineer of the Straits Settlements, on the forests of the Peninsular. It was mainly a description of the principle timber trees, but also recommended the creation of a Forest Department.
McNAIR, Colonial Engineer of the Straits Settlements
Still earlier Malay, Hindu, Chinese, Portuguese or Dutch records may have appeared elsewhere. The Chinese are reported to have shipped forest produce from Malaya as far as A.D. 800, according to G.G.K. Setten, The Mal. For. Vol. XX1V, 1961 and The Timber Trades Journal Annual Issue, 1959.
The history of Malayan politics over the last 100 years is complicated and as it has materially affected the management of the forests of Malaya, we have thought it necessary to include here a brief skeleton outline of that history, against which the progressive development in forest management can be viewed.
The four British Settlements of Penang(1786), Singapore (1819), Malacca (1825) and the Dindings (1826) were transferred from the Government of India to the Colonial Office in 1867 and became known as the Straits Settlements.
British administrators were introduced into the nine Malay states in the latter part of the eighteenth century.
The four states of Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang united as the Federated Malay States in 1896, but the other five states maintained separate relations with the British administration in Singapore until the pacific war.
The Dindings was handed back to Perak in 1935.
The Pacific War broke out in December 1941 and Malaya was occupied by the Japanese from February 1942 until September 1945.
A British military administration followed the Japanese occupation until April 1946, when it was replaced by the civil government of the colony of Singapore and of the Malayan union.
The latter, which represented an attempt at unification, gave way in February, 1948 to the federation of Malaya. This consisted of the nine Malay states and the two settlements of Penang and Malacca, under a strong central government with its headquarters at Kuala Lumpur.
The federation became an independent nation within the commonwealth in 1957, and the colony of Singapore attained self-government in 1959.
The Malayan communist party attempted to seize power in June 1948 and a state of Emergency was declared which was not terminated until July, 1960.
The Beginnings of Management
The known report on the forests of the Peninsular was by Major McNAIR, colonial engineer of the Straits Settlements in 1879, and dealt largely with their commercial potential.
In 1883, a small forest department was set up for the Straits Settlements under the director botanic gardens, Singapore N.Cantley, who was succeeded by H.N. Ridley in 1888.
Subsequent reservation in the 1890’s saved the existing areas of forest in Malacca from clear felling in the rubber boom at the turn of the century, and in Penang where heavy clearing of the higher hills for clove cultivation was going on.
Ridley, in 1896, recommended the formation of an organized forest department for the Federated Malay States and by 1900 there was a forest officer in each of the four states except Pahang.
The spur for this recommendation appears to have been over tapping of guttapercha (palaquim gutta) forests and difficulties over the supply of sleepers to the railways. Prior to this, the forests had been in the sole charge of district officers, and even after the appointment of forest officers, the district officers retained separate forest staffs, the forest officers fulfilling a protective role rather than an administrative one.
Then in 1900, H.C. Hill of the Indian Forest Service was commissioned to report on forest administration in the Federated Malay States and straits settlement and to make recommendations for the future management of the forests. His two reports were the main instigation for the promulgation of systematic forest management in Malaya.
For the Federated Malay States, he commented on the extent of land under productive forest and available for reservation, and remarked on the necessity of enacting a special forest law to achieve this.
He went on to recommend the drafting of working plans, in particular for mangrove and guttapercha forests, and suggested that Forest Officers should submit annual plans of operations’ covering all forestry work envisaged.
It was Hill’s opinion that, with the exception of Palaquimgutta, natural regeneration could be relied upon, and he did not recommend the introduction of exotic tree species on a large scale.
But most important, he recommended the formation of Forestry Department in which the subordinate staffs were to be ‘answerable to the District Officer for the protection of reserves, collection of royalties and detection of illicit practices.’
For the Straits Settlements, where nine percent of the land area was already under forest reserve Hill recommended that all Crown Land under forest should be treated as forest estate, whether forest reserve or not, and that a special forest law be enacted, paripassu enabling further reservation.
As for the Federated Malay States, mangrove and guttapercha forests were recommended for careful management. Also, the appointment of a fully qualified forest officer and four forest rangers, to assist the District Officers on special forest work, was promoted.
Hill’s report led to the appointment of A.M. Burn-Murdoch as chief forest officer, Federated Malay States and Straits Settlements in 1901. The forest department was now on a firm footing and the stage set for progressive development in forest management.”
– J. WYATT- SMITH & A.J. VINCENT.The Mal. For.Vol. xxv, 1962.