The number of illegal logging sites discovered within Prey Lang forest between April and July was 14 percent higher than the previous four-month period, according to a report released yesterday by the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) based on data collected with a novel smartphone app.
Members of the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) have patrolled the forest since 2001 to document cases of illegal logging, but poor data management made reporting haphazard. To solve this, nearly two years ago the PLCN adopted a new tool, created by the agency Web Essentials and the University of Copenhagen, to improve data collection methods and create a centralised database.
Network members say the results are just starting to be felt, with the number of valid data entries increasing recently by 20 percent and new features added regularly.
“We can see 32 chainsaws were confiscated this year in Kratie province,” said the University of Copenhagen’s Majken Soegaard, pointing out the tool’s capacity for precise data collection during a presentation in Phnom Penh yesterday.
Data recorded between February 2015 and July 2016 shows some 56 percent of the sites entered into the database bore signs of partial logging, while 24 percent were completely cleared. Pdiek and chheutheal trees – both endangered – were the most frequently logged, and Kampong Thom had the highest number of reported cases.
According to Dimitris Argyriou, a consultant with the Danish organisation Danmission, the app had substantially streamlined data collection. “The patrollers were taking this data and putting it on paper, handwritten. All of those papers are easily lost, and they didn’t have a systematic way of recording,” Argyriou explained.
Now, specific information, such as the clothing worn by loggers, the method of transporting contraband, the extent of logging and when patrollers interacted with loggers, can be recorded through the app, which notes the GPS coordinates of each incident. The app immediately uploads pictures to a database without saving the images to the patroller’s phone.
Previously, “illegal loggers could see the photos we took. Now the patrollers use the app, and it’s safe for them,” said Ek Sovanna, a network member from Kratie province.
Patrollers in all five provinces spanned by the forest also reported having run-ins with authorities. But officials were less likely to harass PLCN members when they thought their interactions could be recorded, network members said.