Deforestation Costs Acknowledged

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NADC officers confiscate wood that was illegally logged in the northern provinces earlier this year. Supplied

In a startling admission yesterday, the Ministry of Agriculture finally acknowledged that the Kingdom’s forest cover has decreased rapidly over the past few decades, down from a high of 73 percent in 1965 to now, where only 49.5 percent of the country’s forests remain.
According to the annual report of the Ministry of Agriculture for 2016, government officials believe the country’s forest cover will continue to decrease unless deforestation crimes and land clearances are slowed. The forestry administration within the ministry focused its study on the change in the amount of forest between 1993 and 2014, dividing it up into four-year chunks.
“According to the results of the evaluation, the cover of forest gradually declined for the last few years – from 2010 to 2014, it went from 57.07 to 49.48 percent,” the report said.
The report contained a graphic illustrating the change in forest cover in Cambodia between 1965 and 2014. From 1965 to 1992-1993, it decreased from 73.04 percent to 59.4 percent. In the 1990s and 2000s the percentage fluctuated, even going up in 2002. Between 1992 and 1997, forest cover only decreased by one percent, and by 2002 it had gone up to 61.1 percent. It went back down to 59 percent by 2006.
But by 2014, it had decreased to 49.5 percent.
Ty Sokun, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that in addition to the loss of forests, water resources were continuing to gradually disappear, especially in the last decade.
“Deforestation crime still continues to happen and the repression of this crime is still difficult,” Mr. Sokun said.
He added that another factor causing the decline was the growing number of citizens settling in and clearing protected forest zones and wildlife sanctuaries.  
Prime Minister Hun Sen has taken an interest in the issue recently, setting up the National Anti-Deforestation Committee (NADC) earlier this year to stop illegal logging in the northern provinces and deputizing ordinary citizens to stop and arrest anyone caught cutting down trees.
“The royal government has a duty to protect the forests and Cambodian people also want to protect the forest, so it goes to the same goal without a distinction between environmental workers and wood cutters. All of us, including the Royal Government, when we see an anarchic wood cutter, we have to arrest them,” he said.
“Cambodian people have to participate in this despite not being police. They have to report or do something to stop the destruction of the forest,” the premier added.
On Monday, Mr. Hun Sen signed a sub-decree establishing 18 natural protected zones containing a total of 267,450 hectares of land and put it all under the control and preservation of the Ministry of Environment. Control of the 13 protected forests and preserved zones as well as another five exploitable forests, including Prey Lang, was transferred from the Ministry of Agriculture, which for years has been criticized for not doing enough to stop deforestation and protect the country’s natural reserves.  
Ouch Leng, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force and a forest activist who was recently awarded the Goldman Environmental Award Prize, said the government lacked the will to truly protect Cambodia’s forests, even going so far as to say that they treat environmental activists as their enemy. This gave free rein to loggers to do as they wish, he said.
“If we count up to now, the forest is less than the recent statistic released by the government. There is not 40 percent of the forest cover left even if we include rubber plantations,” Mr. Leng said.
Last February, Global Witness released a report titled “The Cost of Luxury,” which said that their eight-month investigation into deforestation led them to the Try Pheap Company and its network of loggers.
They said this company alone is contributing to a large amount of the destruction to the Kingdom’s forests, and was openly violating the rights of ethnic minorities living on land around the country.
They also found that the Try Pheap Company was using its ELC licenses to cut down trees beyond the borders of their land and prepare the wood for transportation outside the country. Try Pheap, the owner of the company, is a close friend and former advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Global Witness sent the government a number of recommendations for dealing with deforestation, including rescinding the ELC licenses to any company skirting Cambodian law to illegally log wood. The leaders of these companies should be put on trial, they said.

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