Officials have said that the former environmental ranger who felled two more than a century-old Koki trees at the Samlot protected forest in Pailin province has been fined 31 million riel ($7,750) by the Provincial Department of the Environment.
The trees were more than 50m tall and had a diameter of almost a metre. Prized for its timber, the Koki tree, or Hopea odorata, is considered threatened.
The man was ordered to pay the fine within a month or the case will be sent to court.
Kem Sokha, director of the provincial Department of the Environment, said 50-year-old Chhay Lai had been an environmental ranger from 2005 until being sacked in 2016 for his involvement in illegal logging.
He was taken to the director of the provincial Department of Environment for questioning on April 22 after the trees were found felled on April
13 in Pailin town’s O’Tavao commune.
“He was fired because he was involved in many illegal logging cases. He cut down the two Koki trees before Khmer New Year. If he doesn’t pay the fine before June 5, we will send the case to the court. His tractor has been impounded,” Sokha said.
Lai said he felled the trees to build a house, Sokha added.
The Samlot protected area covers around 60,000ha, with two-thirds located in Pailin province. The rest is found in Battambang province.
Currently there are only some 40,000ha of forest remaining in the protected area due to illegal logging, a civil society organisation said.
Kong Mony Chan, the director of conservation and community development organisation the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (MJP), which provides funding for the protection of Samlot forest, said more trees had been felled in Pailin province than Battambang.
He said illegal logging came from greed and limited education as to the value of forests.
Traps for catching wildlife were also found every day across Samlot forest in both Pailin and Battambang provinces, he said.
“We make all possible efforts to protect [the forest], but we would have to put people on guard for 24 hours to lose no trees because of people’s greed,” Mony Chan said.
He said before the water festival last November, Kampong Chhnang province submitted a letter to the Pailin provincial Department of the Environment requesting trees be cut down to make boats.
The department assigned officials to find suitable trees in Samlot forest and they selected the two Koki trees felled by Lai.
However, the request was later rejected by the Ministry of Environment after it received a letter from MJP.