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More rangers needed to protect forests: minister

Environment Minister Say Sam Al speaks on the year-end report on his ministry yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Environment Minister Say Sam Al speaks on the year-end report on his ministry yesterday in Phnom Penh. Facebook

More rangers needed to protect forests: minister

More rangers are needed to patrol the Kingdom’s protected areas, Ministry of Environment officials said yesterday during the release of a preliminary annual report, which also detailed total seizures from crackdown operations from January through November.

This year some 300 rangers were added to the ministry’s force, bringing the total to 1,260 rangers, according to the report, a far cry from what is needed to patrol the roughly 7 million hectares of land.

“The land to be protected is very large, but there are only about 1,000 park rangers,” Sam Al said, noting that three to four rangers should be assigned for every 100 hectares of protected area.

Currently, that ratio is closer to one ranger for about 5,500 hectares.

Nonetheless, Sam Al said that ministry rangers are more incentivised to actually provide protection, as they are now armed, no longer work on temporary contracts and are provided with commensurate medical and material benefits.

“So that they are happy and want to protect,” he said.

Sam Al said that the ministry would continue to patrol with other authorities and community members to help offset the shortage.

Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap could not say how many rangers would be recruited in the immediate future, but repeated the need for more.

“We will ask the government to add more,” he said

Environmental activist Seng Sokheng, director of the NGO Peace-Building Network, said that beyond having an adequate number of rangers, officials need a more proactive mindset to crack down on forestry crimes.

“A large amount of rangers does not effectively stop forestry crimes, but determination [does],” he said, adding that the high prevalence of forestry crime in protected areas, especially in the past few months, is evidence of the need for change.

The ministry’s report detailed that over the first three-quarters of 2017, some 195.14 cubic metres of timber – a quarter of which was luxury timber – was seized.

Patrolling officers seized 445 chainsaws, 99 saws, 174 charcoal kilns and 3,696 wildlife traps, according to the report, which noted that 853 individuals signed “contracts” promising to not commit environmental crimes, though no arrest statistics or prosecutions were listed.

This tally does not count seizures by the Forestry Administration and other patrolling bodies.

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