The Cambodian Youth Network (CYN) released a report on Tuesday noting the loss and deforestation of some 3,000ha of forest land in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary because of logging since last year.
The report was based on investigative research into illegal logging in the said land area covering parts of Stung Treng province’s Thala Barivat district and Preah Vihear province’s Chheb district.
During the research which was carried out from July to August this year, students from the CYN interviewed residents, forest land encroachers and local authorities.
They patrolled an area of 1,761ha of land, flew drones, photographed activities of forest clearing, marked locations using the global position system and inspected plots of cleared forest land.
They found that a large part of the wildlife sanctuary’s land area had excessive or illegal logging and forest clearing activities. They also saw chemicals being sprayed on trees and markers on plots of land.
“Forest land is under threat and the loss can potentially be as much as 3,000 ha. This includes land plots in and outside the area we investigated [they patrolled 1,761ha],” the report said.
It said forest land in Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary had been logged by migrants, unidentified people and some villagers. They wanted to use the land for planting agro-industrial crops such as cassava and cashew nuts.
The report said the clearing of the land had happened after Prey Lang forest was gazetted as the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary by the government in 2016.
Prey Lang forest was first managed and conserved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries before it was handed over to the Ministry of Environment.
CYN vice-president Sar Mory told The Post that based on the interviews with residents, the logging and clearing of the wildlife sanctuary forest land had happened the most between May and June this year.
The community also reported that in the locations where the youths had investigated, there was still forest clearing activities.
Mory is worried that an area of some 3,000ha of land would be encroached on.
In some places, hundreds of hectares of the forest might be logged further to expand land plots to be close to each other if the Ministry of Environment and authorities do not take immediate law enforcement actions.
Mory said the CYN submitted the report with attached photo and video evidence to the Ministry of Environment on October 17. But until now the ministry has not responded to it and is yet to act on the reported issue.
“We are concerned that if forest rangers and the ministry don’t take timely measures to prevent forest logging and encroachments. More trees in some 3,000ha will soon be felled to expand land to be close to each other,” Mory warned.
Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said that he didn’t want to comment on the report itself, but that the ministry is very determined to prevent forest land encroachments in the nature reserve area.
Pheaktra, who is also the ministry’s secretary of state, said: “The ministry took back the land which was illegally encroached on as state property. Some offenders were sent to court to be tried for encroachment.”
Stung Treng provincial Department of Environment director Eng Phirong could not respond to the report by the youths as he was attending an assembly at the ministry.
Stung Treng provincial hall spokesman Men Kong said he didn’t receive the report by the CYN.
However, he stressed that the provincial hall conducted an internal meeting last month and assigned specialists who are the forces of the provincial command unit to check for any inaction by officials.
These inactions caused the forest land to be logged and cleared, thereby spoiling the natural resource conservation in the Prey Lang area.
Kong said the internal meeting was held after the provincial hall had received the report from the Ministry of Environment and the community.
The report claimed that there have been cases of encroachment on forest land. And, specialists found some locations had already been marked to clear the forest land.
“In principle, the provincial governor has to prevent it. If the ringleaders are found, they are to be arrested and face the law. And, the governor should take back forest land where encroachment had happened,” said Kong.
Mory stressed that the reason the CYN researched in Stung Treng and Preah Vihear because there were larger-scale forest land logging and clearing in the two provinces.