Ministry disputes forests data

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
SOURCE: Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA

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 on-the-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.