Loggers Hack Away Within K Speu Sanctuary

oral district, Kompong Speu province – Illegal logging operations appear to be thriving in the Oral Wildlife Sanctuary. Nine active sawmills were spotted during a flight that wound through the preserve last week.

“I was a bit surprised to see them that far up on the slope,” Marcus Hardtke of the forestry watchdog Global Wit­ness later said.

One of the loggers’ encampments was about 750 meters above sea level, tucked roughly

50 meters below the crest of a moun­tain that was still densely forested.

Below the mountains, men running band saws amid heaps of saw dust and countless felled trees interrupted the forest—some of it old growth, some of it recovering from earlier harvests.

The flyover was not an exhaustive survey. Hardtke, who recorded the operations’ coordinates with a global positioning system, estimated that only about half of the logging activity in the sanctuary was seen during the flight.

Soeung Bunthoeurn, director of Kompong Speu’s Environmental Department, said Thursday that his team and RCAF soldiers had visited the area a day earlier and had seen the evidence for themselves, but no arrests were made.

“It is hard for us to crack down on illegal logging in the sanctuary because we lack the equipment and transportation. The loggers escape faster,” he said.

Oral district’s timber resources, as well as the entire country’s timber resources, face another threat

—one that may appear more benign but could create vast, long-term degradation should it continue to go unmanaged, forest

specialists say.

From 330 meters up, the charcoal kilns visible near the Oral Wildlife Sanctuary’s southeastern border were too many to count, but they easily numbered in the hundreds. Tree stumps surrounded them.

Under the government’s 2001 ban on logging, it is illegal to cut trees for profit. Although a lot of charcoal production is done by families struggling to stay fed, they usually send their charcoal, a primary fuel source for most Cambodians, to market.

“If I don’t make charcoal, my family will have no rice,” said a 28-year-old resident of Monorom village. The land is too dry for farming, he added.

The man, who declined to give his name, said that until two years ago Monorom did not exist. He and his neighbors came here to live after the timber for making charcoal became scarce around their old village nearby.

Now he belongs to a government-created forestry community, and the land behind his house, where he once cut trees, is off limits while it regenerates. Asked where he gets his wood now, the man pointed across the road from his house and said “outside the community.”

Most charcoal-producing families operate two kilns, he said, adding that he sells about 10 sacks of charcoal a month. Weighing 50 kg, each one fetches a little more than 10,000 riel.

“Some people depend on selling charcoal for making their living,” Soeung Bunthoeurn said.

But villagers say the authorities are profiting from the trade.

“I give money to policemen, military police, soldiers and forestry officials everyday,” said Khun Sina, 42, who has been paying bribes to cart charcoal to Phnom Penh for the past seven years.

“Oral is emblematic of the whole country,” Andrew McDonald, a tropical botanist and forest assessor, said Thursday.

McDonald suggested that tree plantations be established to help supply the country’s fuel, but he acknowledged obstacles.

“It would take some time, and it would take some know-how,” he said.

McDonald said the World Bank has helped other countries, such as India and Mexico, seek alternative fuel sources, but he has heard of no efforts here.

The amount of charcoal Cambodia produces is unknown.

The “Summary of Forest Products”, a Department of Forestry and Wildlife report published in May, said 0 tons of charcoal were produced in 2001 and 2002.

The report also said that 70,159 cubic meters of plywood were produced between 1993 and 2002, while 75,239 cubic meters of plywood were exported during the same period.

Ty Sokun, director of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife, declined to comment Thursday.


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