In preparation for the construction of a hydropower dam, a 5,700-hectare concession has been granted to a little-known company to clear vegetation, including luxury wood species, in the Central Cardamom Protected Forest and Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in Pursat Province, officials said.
Environmental groups on Wednesday, however, expressed concerns over the lack of clear boundaries outlined in the massive concession and reports that luxury wood species are being felled outside the defined area.
Tep Boony, executive director of Save Cambodia’s Wildlife, said that he had received reports, that he had not yet confirmed, that trees are being cut outside the concession, though he did not know by whom.
“[It was] reported from the field that there are some cutting [of] trees outside the area…but I have not confirmed yet,” he said.
Two other wildlife conservationists, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were also aware of logging outside the concession, though the identity of those doing the logging is not known. One of the conservationists said that the boundaries of the concession are not clear and there are no markings on the ground indicating the area where trees can and cannot be cut.
“One company is responsible to clear the trees in the reservoir, but then we also face some problems…that some people cut some trees outside the reservoir,” he said.
Reached by telephone Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said the government advertised for bidding on the forest-clearing concession twice this year and that two companies competed for the contract.
The minister said that a firm, MDS, won the contract because they offered to pay the government $205 for every cubic meter of luxury wood species they collect from the area, which the company will then sell commercially to recoup their costs.
The minister, who said that he could not remember the other bidding company’s name, also denied that any clearing was taking place outside the designated area as the firm is being monitored by the Forestry Administration.
“There is no illegal logging. The area is very difficult to take out timber…We are careful about this problem,” he said.
MDS received the concession on May 4 and started clearing the area in mid-May. The company representative identified on the concession approval letter is one Keo Chanthan, though neither a company address nor phone number could be found for the company on Tuesday and Wednesday. Government officials reached Wednesday said they could not recall details about the firm.
Concerns over the environmental impact of the 110-megawatt Stung Atay dam, which the forest is being cleared to make way for a reservoir, in Pursat province, were raised by NGOs and conservation groups less than a year after the project had been approved in 2007.
According to an Environmental Impact Assessment, from early 2008 the dam will flood a substantial section of the Central Cardamom Protected Forest destroying the habitats of several endangered fauna species. The area that will be flooded covers about 3,000 hectares in the Central Cardamom Protected Forest and 2,000 hectares in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary.
Asked about the concerns raised by the conservationists, Ty Sokhun, director of the Forestry Administration, said on Tuesday that it was not likely that logging was taking place outside the concession area as the firm would be fully occupied clearing the area they have permission to clear.
“There is no need to cut down, clear the land outside the provided area because the company has to complete clearing forest in those areas before 2010,” he said of territory to be cleared to make way for the dam.
He added that if illegal logging is found, legal action will follow.