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Why KL keeps cutting down trees while Singapore doesn’t?!

*Artikel ni ada dalam Bahasa Melayu, tekan sini untuk baca!

Recently there was news that 16 trees along Jalan Ara, opposite the masjid in Bangsar, are going to be cut down, upsetting the residents. It was shared on Facebook by Ng Sek San. In case you’re not familiar with Sek San, he’s the landscape architect who is famous for his Sekeping retreats (and other projects) that are built AROUND trees instead of chopping them down.

seksan bangsar trees cut down Screenshot from FB

The trees have been marked with a red X. Screenshot from Sek San’s post

Apparently instructions came from DBKL to widen the drain and road next to this row of trees. Some commenters were saying it’s not just happening in Bangsar, but all over Petaling Jaya too!

So let’s get this straight…DBKL won’t hesitate to chop down trees for urban development, buttt we’re constantly showing off our forests in Tourism Malaysia ads, buttt, we have the worst deforestation rates in the world, buttt, we hold the world record for most trees planted in one minute. HUHHH!? What’s up with this country’s mau-takmau relationship with trees??

Well, we look at the bigger picture of urban development, with focus on TREES. Guess you could say we’re trying to get to the…root of the problem.  😛



So who is in charge of all the trees in Malaysia?

DBKL cutting tree Image from The Star

DBKL workers clearing fallen trees in Kepong after a storm. Image from The Star

Not Captain Planet fo’sho or he would have zapped us all away for our hostile attitude towards the environment. No, the law on trees is found in the Town and Country Planning Act 1976. In 1995, it was amended with a whole new section added in on tree preservation, after urban developments disregarded environment conservation.

According to the Act, the State Government is the HIGHEST authority on trees. In fact, they’re the highest authority responsible for ALL policies in urban planning and land. So if the trees are unhappy, they can’t appeal to the Prime Minister, or Agong, or whoever. And this means that trees have different “owners” depending on location. For example, a tree in Penang belongs to the Penang State Government, not DBKL, and vice versa.

The State Government has the power to ban or allow trees to be cut down, and if anyone breaks the law, they can be fined RM100,000 or jailed not more than six months, or both. Just remember that generally, no one is allowed to chop down a tree with a girth of more than 0.8m without written permission by the authorities.

Actually, Malaysia has a long history of urban tree planting dating back to colonial times. It was the 1970s that saw an extensive greening program and by the 1990s, the country was working towards becoming a Garden Nation. Tun Mahathir himself launched the Nationwide Tree Planting Campaign in 1997, which saw Malaysia breaking the world record by planting 110,461 trees in one minute, beating Brazil’s record of 25,000 trees in one week.

what purpose tree planting Image from

Urban planting locations in KL under the Garden Nation campaign. Image from

“Increasing aesthetic awareness reflects the growth and development of society as it moves beyond the subsistence level and seeks a better quality life.” – Datuk Seri Sanusi Junid, then Agriculture Minister, New Straits Times (1992)

Trees seemed like such an important part of urban development in the past, so why does DBKL want to cut down 16 of them now?


Malaysia still wants to be a Garden Nation…but we’re not exactly ‘tree-friendly’

Malaysia deforestation fea img. Image rom Wakx on Flickr

Image from Wakx on Flickr

According to news reports, the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) said we’re still aiming to become a Garden Nation by 2020. They called in experts, attend conferences with other countries, make proposals, etc.

“I have seen how Malaysians love to exercise, interact or relax in the existing ones or the bigger parks. We can certainly do with more.” – Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister, The Sun Daily

But is it enough? When we’re PLANTING trees in URBAN areas, while we’re CUTTING trees in FORESTS? Heck whatever urban city or town we live in now WAS a forest until it was stripped away to build houses, malls, hipster cafes, and so on. It’s like plucking out all your good teeth, then putting in implants. Just WHY?

groot guardians galaxy Image from reddit

Image from reddit

And now there’s the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE) highway, which when built, slices through the Ampang Forest Reserve, a water catchment area for much of the Klang Valley. The forest reserve is part of Taman Warisan Negeri Selangor (TWNS), gazetted as a state park in 2007. TWNS is a protected area classified as Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) Rank 1 under the National Physical Plan 2005. OMG then what’s the point of calling it a ‘forest reserve’?

Truth is, development takes precedence over the environment, at least that’s what’s happening in practice. For example, trees in Gaya Street, Kota Kinabalu were felled because DBKK claimed they were infected by termites, but actually they wanted to make extra parking space in the city.

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We also found out about this incredible study by Yale University that can calculate ‘tree wealth’ – estimating the numbers of trees in each country, and how it relates to the country’s physical size, population size and more. And Malaysia has 15.1 billion trees left. 

how many trees in malaysia 15 billion

15.1 billion trees left…and counting down. Screenshot from The Washington Post

Eh that’s not too bad la, 15.1 bil trees compared to 30 mil people in Malaysia. But how long before the scale begins to tip the other way?  🙁 We can only envy countries with the MOST trees like Russia (642 bil), Canada (318 bil), Brazil (302 bil) and the US (228 bil). To be fair, these countries are much bigger by comparison so naturally they would have more trees, BUT, what if we look to a country that’s actually got it right?


You know where we can learn great tree planning from? Singapore!

singapore supertrees Image from

They’re so good at it, they even have man-made trees. Image from

By the way, the picture above is not some fancy city light art…they’re man-made trees at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. The 50m supertrees have real flowers and ferns growing upwards, solar panels to generate electricity, can harvest rainwater, as well as provide air ventilation.

For one of the most densely populated countries on the planet, we gotta hand it to them. Everywhere in Singapore looks modern, but they always have space for their precious trees. How do they do it? The answer lies in the city state’s late PM Lee Kuan Yew’s vision that Singapore should not be a ‘concrete jungle’, but rather a ‘garden city’. Sounds quite similar to Malaysia right? The difference is that Singapore sticks it out!

In 1976, their Parks and Recreation Department was formed and aggressively planted trees around the island. Now in the 21st century, they’ve got some high tech system known as PRIME to supervise of their 1.3 mil trees in 300 parks. PRIME can track a tree’s size, species, health, and trimming history! Aaand they have more than 150 workers dedicated to babysitting all those trees.

singapore tree prime system Image from

PRIME stores information about a tree’s size, species, health, and trimming history. Image from

So maybe having a system like PRIME and a dedicated team of tree experts to look after our own trees is a good idea. And it does seem like could use the expert help, because someone from Kangar wrote to the media concerned that Municipal Councils are simply tree topping suka-suka. Obviously, the authorities have to do some trimming for safety reasons coz if the tree or branches jatuh on someone or someone’s car K.O. laaa.

However, tree topping is a practice where they cut off 100% of the leaf-bearing parts. As you probably know, leaves are where photosynthesis (how plants make their ‘food’), so you remove the leaves, you starve the plant, essentially killing your tree. That’s just wasting time and money and a perfectly good tree. So maybe they could leave the young branches along instead of botaking trees completely.

kangar perlis trees Image from New Straits Times

This is how they botakkan trees along a main road in Kangar, Perlis. Image from New Straits Times

On top of that, Singapore created an index in 2008 to measure and rate how cities are increasing their native flora and fauna. The Singapore Index (yep, named after themselves) is used in 80 cities around the world. Here is a user’s manual that our local authorities might find useful. As far as we know, Malaysia is not a participant, so maybe let’s try using this index?

Lastly, developers must replace or replant every tree uprooted during construction, which means unlike KL, they cannot just cut them down to widen roads. There is proper enforcement la, let’s put it that way. However it’s unfair to say Malaysia never enforces the tree laws. Recently on 28 March, a contractor was fined RM300,000 for chopping down 16 rain trees.

At the end of the day, we can’t stop growth, our population of 30 mil is not gonna stay 30 mil forever. But there are ways we can handle urbanisation without compromising too much of the environment. Urbanisation continues to spread in Singapore too, but so have their efforts to keep the island as green as possible.

“As a small country, we are always innovating to make the most of our limited land resources. Even as we intensify our urban land use, we will set aside 9% of our land for our nature reserves and parks by 2030. This is a conscious choice – one which is never easy, especially when you consider the competing uses for housing, industry, defense and transport infrastructure. We consciously do so for the benefit of all Singaporeans, because a connection to nature is a must-have, not a good-to-have.” – Desmond Lee, Minister of State for National Development, Singapore, not Malaysia  😛

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