Malaysia is well endowed with tropical rainforests which consist of unique and complex ecosystems which are home to the country’s rich flora and fauna. It is a source of high commercial value dipterocarp species whose timbers are well known in the international marketplace. This has enabled the country to establish wood processing industries that serve the world markets.
Forest area is defined as land “spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than five meters and a canopy cover of more than 10 percent, or trees able to reach these thresholds in situ” (FAO). Orchards, urban parks and gardens, and other agriculture crops are excluded as forest. Areas under oil palm, cocoa and other agricultural crops are frequently regarded as agricultural plantations. Areas planted with forest tree species such as Pines, Acacia mangium, Gmelina arborea, and Rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) are known as forest plantations. They fall under the classification of forest since their end products feed the timber industry.
The total land under natural forest in Malaysia is estimated to be 18 million hectares in 2011, covering 54.5% of the land area. (See Table1). The three regions of Malaysia – Peninsular Malaysia, has 5.81 million hectares of forest covering 44.05% of its land area, while Sabah’s 4.3 million hectares of forest, cover 57.5 % and Sarawak’s 7.89 million hectares of forest, cover 64.04% of the state respectively. Of the 18 million hectares of forest, altogether 13 million hectares are managed by the respective forest authorities for timber production or for total protection, as the case may be. These areas are known as Permanent Reserved Forests (PRF) in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, or in the case of Sarawak, Permanent Forest Estate (PFE). The remaining forest areas fall under national parks, wildlife and bird sanctuaries, or state land forests which are subject to future reservation or conversion.
The major forest type consists of the tall, dry inland forest which is the main forest cover. To a lesser extent, (approximately 18%) are the low-lying peat swamp and mangrove forests.
The breakdown of the forested areas in Peninsular Malaysia, is given as follows:-
- Permanent Reserved Forests (PRFs) : 4.93 million hectares;
- National Park/ Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary: 0.61 million hectares; and
- State/Alienated Land Forests: 0.33 million hectares.
The PRFs are managed under sustainable forest management (SFM), where approximately 2.83 million hectares are designated as production forests and the remaining 2.10 million hectares are managed as protection forests such as water catchments, high elevation and difficult topographical features, etc. State land forests are subject to conversion or gazetted as PRF to replace the excised reserved forests. Forested areas of Orang Asli (Aborigines) reserves fall under Alienated Land Forests.
Three Basic Forest Functions
a) Productive functions
Forests produce many useful things – wood and non-wood forest products. Wood can be used as source of energy, not only as solid fuel (for example, fuel wood and charcoal). It can be used as sawn wood (lumber), engineered wood products (particleboard, medium density fibre board, laminated veneer lumber), and plywood (oriented strand board). Wood can also be used as a composite with other materials such as plastics and cement. Non-wood forest products include food and fodder, medicinal plants and animals, aromatics for perfumes and cosmetics, and fibres for construction, craft, and utensils.
b) Protective functions
Forests and trees outside the forests help moderate soil, hydrological and aquatic systems, maintain clean water (including healthy fish populations), and reduce risks and impacts of floods, avalanches, erosion, and drought. Forests also contribute to ecosystem conservation efforts and provide benefits to agriculture and rural livelihoods.
c) Socio-economic functions
Forest resources contribute to the overall economy in many ways (for example, through employment, and through processing and marketing of forest products). In addition to economic functions, however, forests also host and protect sites and landscapes of high cultural, spiritual, or recreational value.
 Auditing Forests: Guidance for Supreme Audit Institutions. Published by INTOSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing (WGEA). Retrieved September 3, 2013, http://www.environmental-auditing.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=fbx%2FbAIVeFU%3D&tabid=128&mid=568
 Envrionemental Statistic time series, 2012. Department of Statistic Malaysia