Extreme Differences in Forest Degradation in Borneo: Comparing Practices in Sarawak, Sabah, and Brunei

The Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak are global hotspots of forest loss and degradation due to timber and oil palm industries; however, the rates and patterns of change have remained poorly measured by conventional field or satellite approaches. Using 30 m resolution optical imagery acquired since 1990, forest cover and logging roads were mapped throughout Malaysian Borneo and Brunei using the Carnegie Landsat Analysis System. We uncovered ∼364,000 km of roads constructed through the forests of this region. We estimated that in 2009 there were at most 45,400 km2 of intact forest ecosystems in Malaysian Borneo and Brunei. Critically, we found that nearly 80% of the land surface of Sabah and Sarawak was impacted by previously undocumented, high-impact logging or clearing operations from 1990 to 2009. This contrasted strongly with neighbouring Brunei, where 54% of the land area remained covered by unlogged forest. Overall, only 8% and 3% of land area in Sabah and Sarawak, respectively, was covered by intact forests under designated protected areas. Our assessment shows that very few forest ecosystems remain intact in Sabah or Sarawak, but that Brunei, by largely excluding industrial logging from its borders, has been comparatively successful in protecting its forests.