Saying that the Ministry of Agriculture alone cannot adequately monitor forest crimes, Ratanakkiri province Governor Kham Khoeun has given selected villagers the right to check that logging concessionaires are cutting the proper size and number of trees.
“I and my people worry about the illegal cutting of trees. If we let the Forestry Department work alone, it is not enough to control the forests,” Kham Khoeun said.
Provincial officials have also recently complained that the government is not using concession land to replace trees cut by logging companies, and is instead putting trees on previously empty land elsewhere.
Civilian monitors—usually five or six villagers picked from hamlets neighboring logging concessions—have the support of the Ministry of Agriculture as well as logging officials.
“Local monitoring units are the eyes of the government,” said Ty Sokun, director of the Ministry’s Forestry Department. “It is better if we have more people caring for our forests.”
Though he did not know the specifics of civilian monitoring in Ratanakkiri, Henry Kong, who chairs the Cambodian Timber Industry Association, agreed that villagers living next to concession land should be allowed to keep track of logging company practices in what is essentially their back yards. “Any genuine stakeholders do have the right to monitor,” he said.
A logging company official who did not want to be named also said that logging companies operating legally should support civilian monitors.
While provincial authorities do have some monitoring control, they say their inability to order tree replanting on logging company land is rapidly emptying concessions of timber.
Logging companies pay the government approximately $57 for every square meter of deforested land, on which the government is supposed to plant new trees. But several provincial governors said no new trees have been planted in logged-out areas under their control.
Stung Treng province Governor Chhim Chhorn said that a logging company operating in his area has ordered a little less than 12,000 new trees from Laos and Vietnam for replanting, but that no new trees have appeared.
Government officials have countered by saying new trees are being planted not in the concession areas, but other parts of the country that are completely bare of trees.
“There is no need to replant,” Ty Sokun said, explaining that logging companies are only supposed to cut mature trees, leaving smaller trees to grow rather than denuding an entire area.
“The government uses the [logging company] money to replant trees in empty land,” Ty Sokun said.