We didn’t expect a junkyard in the jungle, but that’s what we found: chainsaws – hundreds of them – piled high, along with old trucks, dozens of battered cars, countless motorbikes and scores of giant, illegally-harvested timbers. It had all been confiscated by rangers working to protect the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, which is one piece of a massive effort to build a sustainable rural economy while saving and restoring forests in Cambodia.
In the mid-1960s, nearly three quarters of Cambodia was covered by lush tropical forests that provided clean, reliable supplies of drinking water and resilience in the face of natural disasters. Then came the Khmer Rouge and a devastating civil war. As with other countries that experience civil unrest, the period that follows is, by necessity, focused on rebuilding the economy and reducing poverty. In Cambodia, this led to uncontrolled logging and agricultural expansion that resulted in one of the highest rates of deforestation, forest degradation, and forest fragmentation in the world. Today, forests cover less than half the country, much of which is heavily degraded.