International wildlife and forest conservation organisation, Wildlife Alliance, said on Monday that 2,300 chainsaws were seized from illegal loggers in the Southern Cardamom Mountains in the last two years.
The seizing of the chainsaws is a joint programme initiated by the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife Alliance.
“The items are being kept in seven forest preservation headquarters in the Southern Cardamom Mountains located in four provinces – Kampong Speu, Koh Kong, Preah Sihanouk and Pursat. We have also seized other equipment, including snares,” a Wildlife Alliance official told The Post via email.
Wildlife Alliance founder and CEO Suwanna Gauntlett wrote on Twitter on June 26: “We estimate that each chainsaw is responsible for destroying about one hectare of rainforest.
“It takes the rangers a lot of time and physical effort to catch the illegal loggers and confiscate their chainsaws.”
The organisation did not reveal how many illegal loggers had been detained.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said it is the Wildlife Alliance that makes the decision of what to do with the chainsaws.
Pursat provincial Environment Department director Pan Morokort said that this year, 25 forestry offences have been busted, with nine tractors and 50 chainsaws seized. Ten offenders were sent to court in regards to the cases.
But he said the destruction of the forest in the Cardamom Mountains had not declined. Encroachments on protected forest and community land by people from other provinces continue, Morokort said, and the department still has a shortage of manpower.
It employs only 60 rangers to patrol 689,000ha of forest, he said. “The land and the patrolling manpower are disproportionate. We need 200 to 300 people, but I cannot ask for the manpower from the ministry.
“When the forest rangers make patrols, they face many dangers because there are more offenders than rangers and some of them carry weapons."
“Sometimes National and Military Police are invited by the environmental department and it pays them travel and food expenses. They are usually only involved in the big cases but regular patrols are only made by environmental officials.
“For big cases, we call them two or three times a month and spend from two to three million riel [about $500 to $750] because they stay two to three days,” Morokort said.
The government has approved the designation of 410,392ha of the Southern Cardamom Mountains as a National Park, in order to protect the environment and sustainably preserve natural resources.
Pen Bonna, the senior land and natural resources officer for rights group Adhoc, said if government authorities do not take responsibility for the loss of forest land and keep making excuses about a shortage of manpower, under the Forestry Law, the officials should face a prison term of between one and five years.
He said forestry crimes might decline if the judicial police prevented chainsaws coming across the border and seized chainsaws on sale illegally in markets.
“For example, in Ratanakkiri province, the chainsaws that are sold in the markets are unauthorised, but the local authorities turn a blind eye. In the past, we raised the issue of anarchic logging at a provincial workshop."
“At that time, the district Forestry Administration chief said he had striven to apprehend offenders and had sent them local prosecutors, but then the criminals were released along with the evidence, so it discouraged him,” Bonna said.