L OGGING companies will lose their rights to log a pristine wilderness zone in the
heart of the Cardamom Mountain Range if a new recommendation by the Ministry of Agriculture
(MOA) and Ministry of Environment (MOE) to protect the region becomes law.
The recommendation was contained in a report titled "Conservation State of the
Cardamom Mountains in Southwestern Cambodia: Preliminary Studies" which was
released on Sep 21.
The report, produced by the MOE and MOA in conjunction with Fauna and Flora International
(FFI), the Cat Action Treasury (CAT) and the German rain forest organization ARA,
recommends that 336,575 hectares of forest in the central Cardamom Range in Koh Kong
and Pursat provinces be declared a "conservation forest" between the already
existing Phnom Samkos and Phnom Aural wildlife sanctuaries.
"Together, the proposed Central Cardamom Mountains Conservation Forest, Phnom
Samkos and Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuaries form the largest block of intact and
protected tropical evergreen forest in Cambodia and Indochina," the report reads.
"The outstanding biodiversity of the Cardamom Mountain Range may qualify the
protected area ... to be designated as a Natural World Heritage Site."
Ken Serey Rotha, Director of the MOE's Conservation Forest and Buffer Zone Management
Unit, says the new conservation forest will be a boon to the wildlife that inhabit
"This proposed conservation 'corridor' will allow wildlife in the region to
migrate from one end of the mountain range to the other," Rotha told the Post.
Hunter Weiler, Cambodian Liaison for FFI and a co-author of the report with FFI's
Indochina Program Coordinator Frank Momberg, says the proposed conservation forest
is a "biodiversity treasure".
"The wildlife we saw and heard about [in the area] were incredible," Weiler
enthused, recounting the results of hunter surveys as well as aerial and ground reconnaissance
of the area he participated in last April and May.
According to Weiler, eyewitness and anecdotal evidence indicates the proposed conservation
forest is home to Cambodia's highest concentration of tigers as well as elephants,
rhinos and the elusive Khiting Vor.
Weiler cautions that the integrity of the area faces the combined dangers of an influx
of returning refugees, planned construction of new roads and hydroelectric dams as
well as wildlife poaching.
"There are Thai-funded and [Thai-]equipped gangs of poachers packing elephant
guns with telescopic sites targeting endangered species in the area," Weiler
warned. "Elephant and tiger parts are sold directly to Thai merchants on the
other side of the border."
Most serious of all, however, is the threat posed by five logging companies - Samling,
GAT, Silverroad, Superwood and TPP - which have concession areas within the proposed
The report recommends that the contracts the five companies have signed with the
government "might either be cancelled or concession contracts renegotiated to
exclude actual logging within the conservation forest."
Easier said than done, warns Patrick Alley, Director of the environmental watchdog
organization Global Witness.
"This area is not only under concession, but under concession to some companies
which have an appalling record of illegal activities in Cambodia and worldwide,"
Alley told the Post by email.
"Superwood have already began exploiting Aural [District], [one concessionaire
has] a worldwide reputation for environmental and human rights abuses while [another]
has been illegally logging in Koh Kong for years."
Ty Sokun, Chief of the MOA's Forestry and Wildlife Department, plans to take a carrot
and stick approach in soon-to-be initiated attempts to wrest control of the proposed
conservation forest area from the logging companies.
"We know that if we violate the contracts of logging concessions, we might hurt
[investor] confidence," Sokun explained. "Therefore we hope that the logging
concessions will accept alternate sites [for logging] in return for giving up their
rights to this area," Sokun said.
If the logging companies don't cooperate, however, Sokun is prepared to act unilaterally
to save the integrity of what he describes as "the richest biodiversity in all
"The second option is to declare the region a Harvest Exclusion Area,"
Sokun said. "That would strictly delineate and limit the areas in which the
concessions could conduct logging operations."
Alley says an amicable agreement that would save the proposed conservation forest
from the chain saws would be of mutual benefit to both the government and the logging
"By protecting this area the Cambodian government will achieve international
acclaim for achieving what so many countries have failed to do: curbing the activities
of logging companies in favor of the country's natural and social heritage,"
Alley explained. "If the logging companies support this project then they will
be displaying a vision which could help alter the broad public image of them as extremely
destructive operators who plunder countries natural resources for their own short-term
gain, without regard for the host country's long term future."
Back at the MOA, however, Sokun pleads for more detailed surveys of the area to bolster
his arguments for saving it from the concessions.
"We need more in-depth scientific data about the area supporting our claims
[of the area's importance]," Sokun said. "Then we can negotiate more strongly
with the concessions."
According to Weiler such data is on the way, adding that FFI has both the funding
and the expertise for much more detailed exploration and research in the area scheduled
to commence at the end of the current rainy season.
"We have leading international experts on biodiversity willing to come here
and work free because this is such a unique opportunity to work on something of such
global significance," Weiler said.
"As soon as the dry season stats we'll have boots on the ground and researchers
in the field undertaking field surveys in the area."