Prey Lang forest NGO in running for Yale prize

Mayuri Mei Lin​ / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Members of the Prey Lang Community Network on a patrol. KT/Chor Sokunthea

A member of the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) will travel to Connecticut in the United States this weekend after it was selected as one of only two finalists for Yale University’s International Society of Tropical Foresters (ISTF) Innovation Prize.
 
The PLCN was nominated by the University of Copenhagen for its novel use of an app to identify and crack down on illegal logging in the Prey Lang protected forest.
 
Collating data via the app, the group said in December, has boosted conservation by 14 percent.
 
PLCN steering committee member Phai Bunleang will go to the university’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies on Friday to present the NGO’s work and hopefully return with the $3,000 prize.
 
“The selection shows that we are a strong and successful network. It shows that our work is important and that it is being recognized as such internationally. This encourages our members to continue working to protect Prey Lang,” he said yesterday in a statement.
 
According to the ISTF website, the Innovation Prize was created to recognize “outstanding multidisciplinary projects” and successful entries “will have created strategic partnerships to address tropical forest use and conservation.”
 
Environment Ministry spokesperson Sao Sopheap lauded the group’s ongoing conservation efforts coupled with its unorthodox methods.
 
“Overall, the use of information technology is increasing in Cambodia so using the IT platform in their daily work is really good and of course we hope they will continue contributing to conservation efforts,” Mr. Sopheap said.
 
The app crowd sources tips on illegal logging by asking users to submit specific information such as signs of land clearing, the clothing worn by loggers, the way in which loggers were transporting the illegal timber and when patrollers interacted with the loggers.
 
Each entry is saved along with a GPS coordinate and users can also upload pictures directly to the app without having to save them on their smartphones.
 
PLCN then has access to the information which streamlines their efforts and increases the effectiveness of their work in conserving the Prey Lang forest.  
 
Data collected by the PLCN between February 2015 and July 2016 showed that 56 percent of complaints entered into its databases showed signs of some form of logging, with 24 percent of those showing completely cleared forest.
 
The PLCN, in line with their unconventional conservation efforts, also launched a selfie-taking campaign last November in a bid to spread awareness about the country’s rapid deforestation.
 
The group asked Cambodians to take selfies in forests or with trees as a reminder to the government of its pledge made during the Paris climate change convention to increase conservation efforts.
 
The government has declared most of the Prey Lang forest, which intersects five provinces, as a protected area. However, illegal logging still goes on. The Environment Ministry says that large-scale illegal logging, for the most part, has been eradicated.
 
These claims were renewed when Environment Minister Say Samal told Khmer Times on Friday that “large-scale illegal logging has ended.”
 
However, illegal logging is still abundant as the ministry stated in its annual report released in December. The report said that 592 forestry crimes, such as illegal logging and forest clearing, had been committed in protected areas.
 
Authorities reported that they “educated” about 495 perpetrators of forestry crimes and made them sign contracts promising not to engage in the illegal activity in the future. A total of 40,360,000 riel (about $10,000) was collected in fines and only 35 cases were sent to court.
 
Environmental NGOs have long said that the ministry needed to firmly enforce forestry laws to ensure that perpetrators were not let off with a slap on the wrist and ensure that forest rangers did not accept bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye to illegal activity.
 
Environment Minister Mr. Samal told Khmer Times last week that alternative incomes needed to be found for those still involved in small-scale logging.

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