Illegal logging within the Prey Lang protected forest decreased significantly year-on-year over a six-month period ending in February, collected data show, though forest-clearing in the area remains rampant.
The Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN), an alliance of local communities living around the forest, documented on average more than 72 logging cases per month, a 65 percent decrease in the rate of cases during the same period the year before. The network compiled the data after patrolling areas in the park in Kampong Thom, Kratie, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces.
Phay Bunleang, a member of the Kratie branch of the Prey Lang Community Network, said the decline coincided with an increase in patrolling to twice each month instead of once every two months.
“That reduces the logging activities. The participation of environment officials scares loggers as well,” Bunleang said, adding that rangers with the ministry no longer return confiscated chainsaws to loggers.
Srun Darith, the chief of the Environment Ministry’s cabinet, said fewer cases were reported because of the government’s increased commitment to working with the group to protect natural resources.
“We use all existing means to protect the forest,” he said. “This helps the task to be carried out more efficiently than before and both small and big crimes have declined.”
However, Darith admitted that because of the large amount of land the forest covers not all crimes could be prevented.
Conservationist Marcus Hardtke did not see the report as cause for celebration yesterday, speculating that scarcity of luxury wood may be to blame. “There has been logging in greater Prey Lang area for 20 years . . . Perhaps incidents of logging are down because most valuable trees are gone by now,” he wrote in a message.
Ouch Leng, a conservationist and the winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, was also sceptical, saying that he believed logging had only declined a “little, not up to 65 percent” and pointing to the proliferation of sawmills as the largest problem.
“The community network intercepts activities inside the forest only, but the number of sawmills nearby their houses and timber-processing factories increase without interception,” Leng said.
“They can arrest the poor loggers only, and not the ones behind the logging. Sawmills are the cause of forest destruction,” he said.
The PLCN report highlights the group’s limitations in its patrols. If logging were to be effectively combated, they write, bigger companies would need to be targeted, as they “are laundering timber through legal concession contracts with the government” – a practice in which companies pass felled wood through economic land concessions, on which they have obtained a logging permit, making the wood appear legally sourced.
The report also highlights that the problem is worsened by corrupt officials, who take advantage of the trade for “steady revenue”, as well as the issuing of a new mining exploration permit within the forest in May.
“PLCN is deeply concerned at this and strongly encourages the [Ministry of Mining and Energy] and the [Royal Government of Cambodia] to immediately withdraw the permit in order to avoid further damage to Prey Lang,” it says.