The Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) was established in 1914 when the state was still under the rule of the British Borneo Chartered Company. Starting from a humble beginning of 6 staff, the department has grown over the years and has established 27 District Forestry Offices with a workforce of about 2,000 staff. 

The past functions of the department focused primarily on the collection of royalty. The department however has evolved over the years and later assumed broader responsibilities covering the protection and conservation of forest reserves based on the concept of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM).

Since its establishment, the Forestry Department has established forest reserves throughout the state, and is currently the custodian for about 3.6 million hectares or 49.1% of the state’s land mass. Based on the powers vested under the Forest Enactment 1968 and Forest Rules 1969, the department has undertaken various efforts to protect and manage the state’s forests.

The crucial turning point which has influenced the department as an organisation is in the late 1980s when SFM was introduced and later adopted for statewide application in 1997. Since then, the department had been restructured and its capacity enhanced to cover the many facets of SFM.

The Establishment and Key Milestones of The Sabah Forestry Department

Year Milestone
  • The Forest Department was established. Donald M. Matthews, an American, was appointed as the first Chief Forest Officer.
  • First Forest Department Annual Report published.
  • Royalty charges on timber actually cut was introduced.
  • Bulletin No.1: Timbers of British North Borneo and Minor Forest Produce was published.
  • D.D. Wood, also an American, was appointed as the first Conservator of Forests. 
  • Pulau Gaya was gazetted as the first forest reserve. 
  • The department was officially designated as the Forest Department with forest reserves amounting to 129,425 acres (52,376.44 hectares) at the end of 1931.
  • Harry Keith appointed as Conservator of Forests. His wife, Agnes Keith, wrote the book, "Land Below The Wind" in 1939, making Sabah famous.
  • First Working Plan for the Elopura Forest Reserve (mangrove forest) was prepared and implemented by G.S. Brown, the Assistant Conservator of Forests .
  • British Military Administration (BMA) began and J. Agama, the deputy Assistant Conservator of
    Forests, was given the task to reorganise the Forest Department with a staff of 16. This ended in one month and North Borneo became a Crown Colony.
  • The Department of Agriculture ceased to be under the portfolio of the Forest Department which it was, from 1921.
  • The Forest Department was divided into two divisions i.e. East Coast and West Coast divisions with 5 districts – Kudat, Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu), Sandakan, Semporna and Tawau.
  • Monopoly of British Borneo Timber Company was terminated by the Government and 12 new concessions were entered into.
  • Forest Botany Section was formed with the arrival of the first Forest Botanist Mr. Geoffrey Wood from Oxford University.
  • Cartography Section was formed and the first Forest Cartographer was Mr E.C. Francis.
  • His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh officiated the first Forestry and Timber Exhibition in Sandakan.
  • A new Headquarters building was completed in Jalan Ching Meng, Sandakan.
  • Introduction of chainsaws for felling commercial timber in Sabah.
  • The Forest Enactment 1968 and Forest Rules 1969 came into force on January 1st, 1969
  • The Malaysian/Canadian Aid (CIDA) Forest Inventory and Economic Evaluation Project was implemented.
  • Datuk H.S. Martyn made history for being the first native to hold the post as the 7th Conservator
    of Forests.
  • The Sabah Foundation long-term Licence Agreement of 100 years, covering 3300 square miles was entered into.
  • The Headquarters of the Forestry Department in Sandakan was relocated to KM10, Labuk Road
  • Regazettement of 3.3 million hectares of forest reserves or 45.1% of Sabah's land mass to include various forest reserve classes into the constituted reserves
  • Security of tenure endorsed for forest reserves through change of legislation to transfer land use tenure powers to the legislature from the executive.
  • The Sabah Foundation, Sabah Forest Department and the Royal Society (United Kingdom) signed an agreement on a Tropical Forest Research Programme to be based at Danum Valley, Lahad Datu.
  • The Forest Department was renamed as Sabah Forestry Department and headed by the Director of Forestry. Title of 'Conservator' ceased to be used.
  • New divisions and regional offices were established and upgraded i.e. 10 Divisions, 5 Regional Offices and 19 District Forestry Offices.
  • The Wildlife Division was officially separated and put under the management of the Sabah Tourism and Environment Ministry.
  • SFI (Sabah Forest Industries Sdn. Bhd.), the nation's first pulp and paper plant, was commissioned.
  • The era of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) began with the commissioning of the Malaysian-German Sustainable Forest Management Project, at Deramakot Forest Reserve.
  • HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, President of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) visited the Sabah Forestry Department for the second time. He was accompanied by the Chief Minister of Sabah, Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima Joseph Pairin Kitingan together with the 9th Director of Forestry, Datuk Miller Munang.
  • Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) was introduced.
  • The world's first tropical forest carbon project was launched at the INFAPRO area, Ulu Segama Forest Reserve.
  • Five (5) additional District Forestry Offices were established, making a total of 24.
  • Exhibition of the client charter is made compulsory in all divisions and regional offices.
  • Danum Valley (43,800 hectares) was accorded totally protected status under Class I (Protection)
  • Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad visited Sabah Forestry Department i.e. Deramakot Forest Reserve.
  • State Government introduced new policy i.e. adoption and statewide implementation of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) and the FMU forest management system.
  • Deramakot Forest Reserve was certified as a well managed forest by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and is also the world’s first for tropical forests
  • Maliau Basin (58,840 hectares) was accorded totally protected status under Class I (Protection).
  • The department received its first ISO certificate, MS ISO 9000 for its Royalty Collection System on the Production of Timber from Class II Commercial Forest Reserves for Local Processing at the Forestry District of Beluran.
  • Number of Forestry Districts expanded to 27.
  • Helicopter Logging introduced in Sabah.
  • Sabah Forestry Department's official flag was hoisted at the SFD Headquarters
  • Ulu Segama and Malua Forest Reserves covering some 241,000 hectares of forest reserves were set aside for the Ulu Segama and Malua SFM project to secure a home for Orang Utans in co-existence with forest management in the long run.
  • The Centennial Time Capsule and the "Forestry in Sabah" book was launched by the Chief Minister of Sabah, the Right Honourable Datuk Seri Musa Hj. Aman at the Rainforest Discovery Centre.
  • Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, made a visit to Deramakot Forest Reserve, the second Prime Minister to do so.
  • Logging completely ceased in Ulu Segama-Malua Forest Reserves, in the interest of conservation, after some 50 years of timber harvesting.
  • The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his wife, Tun Jeanne Abdullah launched the Rainforest Discovery Centre.
  • Borneo's first Ramsar site for wetlands, covering some 78,803 hectares, declared at the Kinabatangan coastlines.
  • Forestry Department made a presentation at the Chatham House, London on good forest governance.
  • Third Party Independent Auditing of all long-term licence holders introduced.
  • Imbak Canyon (16,750 hectares) was accorded totally protected status under Class I (Protection).
  • RIL was made mandatory on all harvesting within forest reserves.
  • Both Ulu Segama Forest Reserves and Tangkulap-Sg Pinangah Forest Reserves (FMU 17A) were certified under the FSC standard.
  • The Right Honourable Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak launched the 'SAFE" (Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems) project at the Maliau Basin Field Centre, a Malaysian collaboration with the Royal Society and the University of London.
  • 1.2 million m³ of plantation timber produced in Sabah and the highest ever since the first exports of planted timber in 1982.
  • The Sabah Forestry Department was invited to St. James's Palace, London, to present Sabah's Conservation agenda.
  • Sabah Forestry Department made a presentation in a side event of the Rio+20 Conference, Brazil.
  • About 900,000 hectares of forests are partially or fully certified in Sabah under the FSC and the MTCC (Malaysian Timber Certification Council) as well managed forests.
  • Their Royal Highnesses, Prince William & Lady Catherine visited Danum Valley.
  • Carbon locked up in trees legislated as a forest produce and a taxable commodity if traded.
  • Totally Protected Areas (TPAs) increased to 18.6% of the total land mass of Sabah or about 1.3 million hectares.
  • The Sabah Forestry team made a presentation on Sabah's Conservation agenda to the US Administration at Washington DC, USA.
  • For the first time in at least 50 years, no short term (Form I) licences were issued inside forest reserves.
  • SFD constituted a total of 3.6 million hectares of forest reserves or 49.1% of the State's land mass.
  • Totally restored and planted forests exceeded 500,000 hectares, the highest ever.
  • The department is a proud organisation with about 2,000 staff and headed by Datuk Sam Mannan