The government has reversed course on a controversial decision to downsize the proposed boundaries of a long-awaited protected area for the beleaguered Prey Lang Forest, the largest lowland evergreen forest left in Southeast Asia.
Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree creating five new protected areas across the country, including a 305,000-hectare protected zone in Prey Lang, which remains home to several wild elephants despite years of abuse from illegal loggers and encroaching rubber plantations.
Another sub-decree signed by the prime minister on May 9, however, bumped the size of the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary up to 432,000 hectares. It still fell short of the 600,000 hectares some conservationists and local communities had long wished for, but came closer to the roughly 450,000 hectares that they had expected.
“The government has decided to establish the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary with 431,683 hectares in Stung Treng, Kompong Thom, Kratie and Preah Vihear provinces to secure and maintain the wildlife sanctuary and ecological system,” the new sub-decree says.
The original plan for a 305,000-hectare Prey Lang protected area was unveiled at a workshop in Phnom Penh just days before the first sub-decree was signed in April. Members of the independent Prey Lang Community Network, which regularly patrols the forest for illegal loggers, complained that the plan left out Preah Vihear province entirely and urged officials to reconsider.
The sub-decree Mr. Hun Sen signed a few days later establishing the Prey Lang sanctuary at 305,000 hectares seemed to dash the group’s hopes.
Hoeun Sopheap, a network member, said on Tuesday that the group was happy to see the government reconsider and include Preah Vihear.
“Our people are very happy it was included,” he said. “The inclusion of Preah Vihear in the protected area will help the communities a lot, because they live in the area and depend on the forest products and natural resources.”