Twenty-two cases connected with illegal forest clearance and wild animal and timber poaching in the Phnom Tnout-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary were sent to court for prosecution last year, a decline of 50 per cent over 2019.
Preah Vihear provincial Department of Environmental deputy director Meas Nhem said on February 2 that ten of the cases referred to the provincial court by officers under his command had returned verdicts with jail terms of one to five years.
The remaining 12 cases are ongoing in the court, and two additional cases from the first month of this year were filed on February 1, Nhem said.
He explained that rangers had educated violators and made them sign cease and desist orders. Rangers had also seized evidence pertaining to the cases.
Nhem noted that efforts by rangers to disseminate instructions through public outreach, as well as fining or prosecuting offenders, had resulted in a steep decline of forestry crimes.
He added that his department is collaborating with USAID to determine and demarcate the boundaries of the wildlife sanctuary. Because separate areas of the forest had not been clearly designated in the past, residents were uncertain which areas were for conservation and which they have a right to use.
The department plans to plant boundary poles around conservation areas so that residents will understand clearly which areas they may use for their livelihoods, Nhem said.
“We have determined four sections – the core area, the conservation area, the sustainable development area and the community area. Once they are marked as such, offences will decline further. Most violations have been committed by migrants from Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces. Local residents have committed the fewest offences,” he said.
Regarding law enforcement in and around sanctuary, Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the ministry was working with USAID and other partners as part of the Greening Prey Lang Project. Rangers have been engaging with communities and actively patrolling protected areas across the country.
“Offences in the sanctuary are mostly cases of illegal land clearance, animal poaching and timber logging. It is notable that strict enforcement of the laws, in conjunction with public education and community participation has resulted in a recent decrease in violations,” he said.
Pheaktra acknowledged that illicit logging, hunting and trapping continued to occur, and the ministry sought means of promoting alternate livelihoods for community members. Currently, he said, residents living in protected natural areas collected too many forest products without sufficient consideration for biodiversity and sustainability.
“If they cut one tree, the forest and animals remain. But in cases of encroachment and occupation, they burn the forest, and we need to stop it,” he said.
Local resident Pov Yat admitted that he had previously hunted animals in the area, and while wildlife remained, they were not yet safe because others continued hunting. He noted, however, that the situation was improving because of efforts from rangers and conservationist Ben Davis to enlist support from community members to stop encroachments.
Davis, an environmental activist from the US, noted that forestry crimes mostly occurred at night, but cooperation from rangers and community members had brought about a remarkable reduction such incidents.
“Without their assistance, it would be difficult to stop the offences in this area,” he said.