The Cardamom mountains, marked by conservationists as one of the most important environmental sites to preserve in Cambodia, has been officially designated a protected area, but only temporarily.
Conservation groups working to preserve the area applauded the move, but expressed concerns about the temporary status, which offers no guarantees the Cardamom range will be permanently protected.
A directive signed Jan 22 by acting Agriculture Minister Chan Tong Yves sets aside 330,000 hectares in the central Cardamoms as protected forest under a provisional status, according to Forestry Director Ty Sokhun.
All commercial activity, including logging, will be banned in the area until further studies are
completed, probably by the end of the year. Five companies now have logging concessions there.
Conservationists have said logging companies that operate in the area are violating existing forestry management plans and dispute the idea that the concessions can be managed in a sustainable way.
Jon Buckrell of Global Witness, the government’s independent forestry monitor, said the government directive could herald “a new way of thinking about forests, not simply as a resource for exploitation.”
A progress report by the donor working group on natural resource management, presented at Monday’s donor meeting, said “protection of the central Cardamoms is not yet assured.”
The report says the Forestry Department is awaiting the filing of “sustainable forest management plans,” which will be submitted by logging companies in the area and must be in place by November, before making a final decision on the status of the Cardamoms.
Conservation International has been negotiating with the government for months to protect the central Cardamoms. The group has agreed to put up $1.5 million for a three-year program to develop infrastructure in the area and to help train rangers if the government decides to give the area permanent protected status.
“This is a government program,” said David Mead, country representative for Conservation International. “CI will come out strong, long and hard once the area is protected.”
Isolated by years of war and civil unrest, the former Khmer Rouge zone in southwestern Cambodia comprises nearly
1 million hectares in Koh Kong, Pursat and Kompong Speu provinces and includes the protected Mount Samkos and Mount Aural wildlife sanctuaries.
Recent surveys of the area have found evidence of several rare species, including tigers, elephants and the nearly extinct Siamese crocodile.
In recent years logging companies, wildlife poachers and settlers have encroached upon the land.
Wildlife habitats across the country have faced the same problems in recent years, the donor working group report noted.
“While the Cardamoms represent an important opportunity for conservation,” the report states, “they need to be seen in the context of overall Cambodian national planning for protection of valuable biodiversity.”
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