Min­istry dis­putes forests data

The Phnom Penh Post - - NATIONAL - Phak Sean­gly and Ananth Baliga

THE Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment re­leased a state­ment late Tues­day night ve­he­mently re­fut­ing Univer­sity of Mary­land data that showed a 30 per­cent spike in forest cover loss in 2016 over the year be­fore, point­ing in­stead to its own data show­ing only min­i­mal de­for­esta­tion over the same pe­riod.

The Post on Mon­day pub­lished newly up­dated data from the Univer­sity of Mary­land that showed a size­able bump in forest loss last year, an in­crease that co­in­cided with the gov­ern­ment’s much-touted year­long crack­down on il­le­gal log­ging led by National Mil­i­tary Po­lice Chief Sao Sokha.

The min­istry’s state­ment de­nies the va­lid­ity of the satel­lite data and says the Univer­sity of Mary­land did not con­duct on­the-ground ver­i­fi­ca­tion of their claims, caus­ing in­con­sis­ten­cies with the find­ings of a team of national ex­perts that are aided by three devel­op­ment part­ners.

“The re­sult of national tech­ni­cal ex­perts showed the rate of loss of forest cover in Cam­bo­dia from 2014 to 2016, and it is 0.67 per­cent an­nu­ally,” the let­ter reads, even while ac­knowl­edg­ing that its cal­cu­la­tions in­clude “rub­ber plan­ta­tions, palm oil plan­ta­tions and other crops”.

The Univer­sity of Mary­land’s satel­lite im­agery, which gives a global pic­ture and not a Cam­bo­dia-spe­cific one, shows the change in forest cover over the last 16 years, by map­ping the loss in dif­fer­ent kinds of tree cover – de­fined as canopy clo­sure for all veg­e­ta­tion taller than 5 me­tres.

Mar­cus Hardtke, a long-time con­ser­va­tion­ist, said the in­clu­sion of plan­ta­tions in forest cover eval­u­a­tions had been crit­i­cised glob­ally – point­ing to a flawed as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween forests and plan­ta­tions.

“That is like say­ing a swim­ming pool is the same as the Tonle Sap lake – both are wa­ter,” he said.

The min­istry’s let­ter also calls The Post’s re­portage as “ex­ag­ger­ated”, pub­lished with “dis­hon­est in­ten­tions” and a “po­lit­i­cal agenda”.

En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Say Sa­mal and min­istry spokesman Sao Sopheap could not be reached yes­ter­day.

Keo Omalis, deputy direc­tor and spokesman of forestry ad­min­is­tra­tion, said that from 2010 to 2014 there had been higher rates of de­for­esta­tion be­cause of clear­ing for eco­nomic land con­ces­sions, but that it had re­duced from those lev­els after 2014.

Sep­a­rately, the King­dom’s stream of il­le­gal log­ging re­ports con­tin­ued yes­ter­day, with more than 100 logs of first-grade sokrom tim­ber from Bo­eng Cha forest, near the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, found in Kratie prov­ince’s Sam­bor dis­trict, ac­cord­ing Prey Lang Com­mu­nity Net­work mem­ber Sam Nou. The tim­ber was be­ing prepped for trans­port by a sol­dier, he added.

“At the sol­dier’s house, there are three mini-trac­tors for haul­ing the tim­ber,” he said. “They might haul them out at night.”

Forestry Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said they had yet to in­ves­ti­gate the haul.

SOURCE: HANSEN/UMD/GOOGLE/USGS/NASA

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