Illegal forest clearing is taking place at about three times the rate it did last year, but fines for forestry and wildlife crimes have fallen dramatically, according to a progress report released last week by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (MAFF).
The report catalogues all statistics from the ministry for the first nine months of the year, and shows markedly different figures across the board to the figures in the same report released last year.
Though a new anti-logging task force was created on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s orders at the start of the year, seizures of chainsaws through October were little more than half what they were in the same period last year – down to 249 from 452 – according to the report.
Similarly, while 1,653 forestry and wildlife crime suspects were sent to court during the first nine months of 2015, the figure was only 1,166 this year. For 2015, 487 cases resulted in fines, whereas this year’s report notes that only 293 fines were levied.
Despite the reduced figures, the report notes that almost three times more wood had been confiscated through October. Last year’s report noted 4,163 cubic metres of seized wood, while this year’s noted 12,089 cubic metres.
Eng Hy, spokesman for the national military police, whose commander Sao Sokha was appointed to lead the anti-logging taskforce by Hun Sen, declined to comment on the MAFF figures yesterday, referring questions to the Forestry Administration (FA).
“Ask the Forestry Administration, they know about this because they made the report,” he said.FA chief Chheng Kimsum also declined to comment on the figures, saying he had not yet read the report. MAFF spokesman Lor Raksmey could not be reached for comment.
MAFF and the Environment Ministry in April swapped jurisdictional control of a number of protected areas, with the Environment Ministry taking on a number of MAFF’s old conservation duties.
Environment Ministry spokesman Eang Sophalleth said that while the ministry had not yet set up its own mechanisms to track arrests and seizures of wood, daily reports indicated that authorities were taking “a lot of action” to end forest crimes.
Separately, Phnom Kravanh district police chief Vong Savath said his forces earlier this week arrested Chea Saro, 55, for inciting 15 villagers to clear protected forests so he could sell the land on behalf of others. Saro was sent to court on Wednesday, and the villagers were educated and released, Savath said.