Denmark's University of Copenhagen has drawn Prey Lang stakeholders’ attention to recently published data which shows increased illegal logging within the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary.
In an open letter dated April 11 and penned by the university, illegal logging activities were highlighted on a map provided by Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN), the EU Joint Research Centre, and Global Forest Watch.
“The data of PLCN corresponds with satellite imagery obtained with the Forest Canopy Disturbance Monitoring (FCDM) tool, developed by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.
“The FCDM tool supports the detection of forest canopy disturbance from satellite remote sensing and can provide indications on forest degradation processes,” the letter said.
The deforestation is also documented by the Global Land Analysis and Discovery (Glad)-University of Maryland, supported by the Global Forest Watch.
The letter notes that there have been approximately 1,000 Glad alerts – notices for when deforestation is detected – per week in Prey Lang this year.
The data shows an increase in forest loss in the southern and northern part of Prey Lang, which is in line with the data collected through PLCN and the FCDM tool.
The letter said a PLCN tree blessing ceremony planned for February 22-23 was cancelled by the authorities.
“We are concerned that the PLCN tree blessing ceremony was banned due to government-sanctioned illegal logging of protected resin trees in the area,” it said.
PLCN is still banned from entering the forest, the letter said, making it impossible for them to patrol the area and collect data on forest crimes, biodiversity and climate change.
“PLCN members can only watch as illegal loggers freely enter Prey Lang and convoys of trucks transport timber out of the forest,” it said.
PLCN was formed in 2001 as a group of community members dedicated to preventing illegal logging and industrial agriculture in Prey Lang forest.
“They have bravely defended Prey Lang while many of Cambodia’s forests have been plundered as officials either profited from or ignored rampant deforestation,” the university’s letter said.
Despite the designation as a protected area in 2016, Prey Lang remains under serious threat due to rampant illegal logging, it said.
The university noted that Cambodia has been ranked as one of the most vulnerable countries in climate change and called on Prey Lang stakeholders to take “urgent and meaningful action to stop the illegal logging and investigate the ongoing forest crimes.”
It also requested the government to “guarantee a safe and enabling environment for environmental human rights defenders to conduct their work without fear of reprisals”.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post on Sunday that the government is dedicated to protecting and conserving natural resources, including the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary.
Ministry rangers are stationed in protected areas and continue to enforce the Law on Protected Areas in collaboration with the protected areas’ communities recognised by the ministry.
He said they patrol regularly and crack down on illegal natural resource crime, logging, hunting, animal snaring and land grabbing.
Last year, 1,200 rangers stationed in the protected areas cracked down on 4,746 cases of natural resource crime. Out of those cases, 487 were sent to court. During the crackdowns, 2,531 chain saws were seized, Pheaktra said.
“The Ministry of Environment emphasises that no perpetrator can escape the law. We recognise that there are small-scale natural resource offences in protected areas, but no large-scale crimes.
“Most of the offences are committed by people living around protected areas. They are traditionally loggers and hunters and use the forest to survive. Rangers have put a stop to many of these offences.
“The ministry has been implementing a plan to lessen their dependence on natural resources by creating new occupations and increasing their incomes by promoting natural tourism,” Pheaktra said.