Forestry officials are hoping that a new report released yesterday naming the Prey Lang forest as one of the world’s top 10 biodiversity hot spots will strengthen a proposal to declare the forest a protected area.
The assessment, which was requested by the Forestry Administration (FA) and USAID, and delivered by NGO Conservation International (CI), found that Prey Lang ranks as “one of the more significant areas of lowland evergreen forest in the Indo-Burma region”.
The forest, which spans four provinces – Kratie, Kampong Thom, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear – is home to almost 1,000 species of flora and fauna, a main livelihood source for the 250,000 people living in adjacent areas and a watershed for the Tonle Sap Lake, from which a significant proportion of the national economy derives.
However, a lack of effective patrolling and law enforcement, according to the report, has led to increased illegal encroachment, settlement, logging and hunting in the forest.
“Illegal logging is evident throughout the landscape and occurring at an alarming rate,” said USAID Forests and Biodiversity project specialist Mengey Eng.
“Meanwhile, illegal wildlife threat is also flourishing and many species … could be found slain and for sale in local markets.”
The FA has drafted a sub-decree requesting the government designate the 300,000-hectare forest an official protected area, said CI technical adviser Tracy Farrell.
“We’re hoping that this report will drive the point that Prey Lang needs a higher degree of protection and attention … as protected areas usually attract more funds for increased resources and enforcement,” she said.
The FA has mobilised law enforcement on the provincial and district levels, while grassroots groups consisting of locals like the Prey Lang Community Network have set up community patrols to keep poachers and illegal loggers out of the area.
“But it’s not enough at all,” Farrell said. “They don’t really have many facilities and they need extra ranger stations and motorbikes, among other resources.”
According to Farrell, the FA intends to send its request to ratify the sub-decree to the Council of Ministers before the end of the year.
The forestry body is also in discussions with NGOs and residents regarding where the forests’ official boundaries should lie.
FA officials declined to comment .