Penan community accuses Samling of destroying protected salt lick

Opposition mounts in Layun Forest Management Unit, while Long Pakan community blames Samling’s logging operations for destruction of an HCV protected salt lick

People from the Penan village of Long Pakan in the Baram region have reported that timber giant Samling’s operations have resulted in the destruction of a salt lick in their territory. Salt licks are considered to be of High Conservation Value (HCV) and logging companies are mandated to protect them during their operations under Sarawak’s policy of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM). The destruction of the HCV happened during Samling’s operation in its Layun Forest Management Unit (FMU), which received the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) certificate earlier this year. While Samling started building logging roads in Long Pakan territory in late 2021, the actual logging operations started in 2023 in the active coupe (see map). The community also reported that Samling has left heavy logs and debris lying across one of their streams, damaging the stream and rendering an important area of their land impassable. 

In late 2021, Samling started entering the area of Long Pakan and the community reacted with a blockade. Samling refuted the community’s claims of operating in their area. Later, it was revealed that Samling was not aware that Long Pakan territory was within the FMU and therefore, failed to consult the community before operations. The then-headman of Long Pakan, Pada Jutang, asked that Samling not receive the MTCS certificate. The community filed two police reports, one in 2021 and one in 2022. In the reports they already reported the destruction of sago and rattan trees, fruit trees, medicinal plants, a stream and a salt lick, as well as the extraction of 109 hardwood trees.

Last month, several other Indigenous communities in the Layun FMU also voiced their concerns about logging activities conducted by Samling. In letters addressed to the company, the Penan communities of Long Pakan, Long Nen, and Long Mera’an have urged Samling to refrain from encroaching on their territories, stating that they “unequivocally [reject] all logging within our territory, regardless of whether it is certified as sustainable or not.” They clearly indicated their mistrust of Samling and the consultants hired for assessments. The communities also submitted maps clearly showing where their NCR lands overlap with Samling’s Layun FMUs. 

The MTCS standard is supposed to guarantee high environmental and ethical standards, including community rights to “control forest management on their lands and territories unless they delegate control with free, prior, and informed consent to other agencies and/or parties.” The fact that Samling has destroyed a salt lick, as well as clear community resistance to their logging operations, indicate that they are falling short of meeting MTCS standards, yet their operations are nonetheless certified. 

These events add to community resistance to Samling in the Gerenai, Suling Selaan, Tama Abu and Ravenscourt FMUs, where various communities have sent letters opposing logging and certification. In the case of the Gerenai FMU, communities had already criticised the superficial manner with which Samling and its consultants conducted the mandatory assessments, specifically citing poor documentation of salt licks

Communities and supporting non-profit organisations have been exposing the inability of the MTCS, which is internationally recognized by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), to guarantee high standards for years. The destruction of an HCV site questions Samling’s capacity to follow SFM. The community rejection letters underscore the ongoing challenges faced by Indigenous groups in Sarawak due to logging activities. They also call into question Samling’s suitability for new carbon credit projects in the state, given the company’s proven record of questionable environmental practices.