Deforestation in Prey Lang forest in the central plains of Cambodia continues to be a major problem that threatens the local economy, food security and biodiversity, and has the potential to accelerate climate change, according to a recent report by the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN).
The local grassroots movement to preserve the forest found that the major culprit in deforestation is illegal logging, which has increased in recent years. The group's 7th Monitoring Report, published Monday, also says that the government is making the situation worse by requiring permits to patrol the forest. In addition, roads are causing habitat loss within the forest.
Illegal logging is still happening at an alarming rate, the report says.
Satellite imagery showed a forest loss of 5,600 ha in 2017. This is equivalent to twenty-one football fields of forest disappearing every day.
Hoeun Sopheap, a Prey Lang activist based in Kampong Thom province, told RFA's Khmer Service that within the past year, while patrolling the forest, he observed that illegal logging is still rampant and that the loggers have built roads that help them to evade the law. The government is actually making it harder to stamp out illegal logging.
If we patrol the forest without the cooperation of the Ministry of Environment, they consider it as illegal activity, He said.
Meanwhile, activists from the PLCN criticize the Ministry for failing to resolve a petition they sent regarding a land concession that granted more than 30,000 hectares in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces to Ci Biotech Co ltd.
They asked the Ministry to clarify terms of the concession because it affects protected forest and wildlife sanctuaries.
The activists petitioned the ministry in 2015 and 2016 after the government granted concession to Ci Biotech in 2012 to replant trees on degraded forest areas but there has been no response.
The activists say they have seen saw mill depots in the area and have witnessed loggers exporting timber using the company's name.
Activist Yim Sopheak said by law, the government can't grant concessions of more than 10,000 hectares of land, about a third of the concession this particular company received.
Another activist, Ek Vanna, said the company's activities haven't benefited the surrounding villages.
The company doesn't develop anything, they just cut down the wood, he said. He added that the company also hasn't planted any trees.
RFA attempted to contact Ministry Spokesman Neth Pheaktra for comment on Tuesday but were unable to reach him.
The report recommends removing restrictions on independent patrolling, the closure of logging roads and stopping construction on new roads in the forest, unless absolutely necessary.
PLCN was unsparing in its dim view of government efforts to prevent illegal logging in the report.
It seems there are no specific measures being taken to address these violations, the Network wrote.
Remarkably, every day, many tractors loaded with timber pass unencumbered through forest ranger checkpoints. The timber is not being confiscated and the offenders face no legal consequences for their crimes, they wrote.
Cambodia has long endured the rampant smuggling of logs and timber�often with the complicity of local authorities�to neighbors such as China and Vietnam, where the wood is used to make high-end furniture.
In May last year, a report by the U.K.-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said that around 300,000 cubic meters (10,594,400 cubic feet) of timber�including endangered rosewood�had been smuggled out of protected areas in Cambodia to Vietnam with the help of local authorities through some U.S. $13 million paid in bribes between November 2016 and March 2017.
According to the NASA Earth Observatory website, between 2001 and 2014 Cambodia lost a total of 1.44 million hectares (5,560 square miles) of forest�one of the world's fastest rates of deforestation.
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