Forestry crimes including logging, poaching and encroachment on state forest land for private ownership increased considerably last year despite stricter law enforcement, according to an annual report by the Ministry of Environment.
Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said forest rangers cracked down on 8,917 cases in 2020 compared to just 5,745 the previous year – an increase of 3,442 cases or nearly 40 per cent.
According to Pheaktra, the ministry has 1,200 forest rangers, and throughout last year, they conducted a total of 27,588 patrols compared with 24,048 in 2019, an increase of 3,540.
Pheaktra pointed out the obvious correlation between the increase in patrols conducted and the increase in the number of crackdowns, saying this demonstrated that rangers were not just patrolling for show but actively engaged in law enforcement duties.
He said most of the crimes that forest rangers tackled were illegal logging, poaching of wild animals through hunting or traps and illegal encroachment on protected forest lands.
Among the natural resource-related crimes recorded last year, 605 cases were sent to court, 857 resulted in fines, and 2,946 cases were resolved with authorities educating offenders and requiring them to sign a pledge not to repeat their violations.
Pheaktra noted that rangers had confiscated over 4,000 chainsaws last year, an increase of about 500 from the previous year.
“The unwavering vigilance of our brave forest rangers as they venture out into the wild to defend Cambodia’s natural resources and environment from those who would so callously pillage them for profit deserves special recognition and praise,” he said.
He added that 43,270 traps were removed from protected areas in 2020 – an increase of nearly 4,000 over the previous year, in which 39,382 traps were neutralised.
Last year saw rangers impound 215 offending cars, 611 home-made trucks and 590 motorcycles, Pheaktra said. Rangers also seized 737 guns and 2,718 cubic metres of illegally sourced wood.
Pheaktra said his purpose in highlighting these statistics was to demonstrate in a tangible way the great successes achieved by forest rangers in 2020 as part of the ministry’s stepped-up efforts to put a stop to forestry crimes.
“Law enforcement in Cambodia is increasing in effectiveness from year to year, including the forest rangers. It now can be said that large-scale forestry crimes are no longer taking place in the manner they once did, and the government has been able to assert far more control over the more remote forest areas,” Pheaktra said.
He said the authorities will keep exploring new ways to assist law enforcement and that technology – such as the use of drones to monitor remote areas – could be a key factor in putting a stop to deforestation completely.
Kroeung Tola, an environmental activist in Mondulkiri province, said although the situation appeared to be improved greatly from past years, the reality is that there is still logging and deforestation taking place discreetly.
“We see that crimes are still being committed, logging is still going on, mines are being dug and natural resources are still being lost. They don’t do it on a large scale and clear one big chunk of forest with a big group or heavy equipment anymore – now they spread it out to avoid detection.
“So what they are doing is sending out a lot of smaller groups of workers to fell trees in many different places instead of working together in one spot.
“The bottom line is that the methods are different but the end result is the same: widespread deforestation,” Tola said.