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Forest robbery

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A long but not very difficult look at how Thai forests are being robbed of their most precious rosewood (payoong) trees.

A recently cut payoong tree in Phu Pan national park of Sakon Nakhon. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD

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Rosewood trees in crisis

Poaching of prized wood worth billions

King-oua Laohong
Asia's last real expanse of the highly-prized payoong (rosewood) tree in Thailand's Northeast is under such a sustained attack from poachers that its existence is at crisis point.

Forestry officials' resources have been stretched to breaking point as they try to protect the remaining reserves spread over a vast area.

They complain they are becoming increasingly helpless to fight illegal loggers as demand from China for the precious wood soars and corrupt officials and involvement by bent politicians hinder their efforts.

Demand from China for the protected payoong timber has tripled since last year, Sakda Wichiansilp, director of Protected Area Regional Office 10, says.

Last year, it was estimated around 140 tonnes of the wood, worth more than 20 billion baht, were illegally felled in the payoong-rich forests of the Northeast.

The wood is believed to hold magical powers and is used for sacred objects.

Mr Sakda said a combined force of military, police and forestry officials patrol the forests and set up roadside checkpoints to catch the poachers.

But the smuggling continues unabated, such are the rewards.

He conceded the poachers were often a step ahead of the authorities as some forestry staff are known to be in league with them.

More than 10 officials based in the Northeast have been arrested for conspiring with the payoong poachers.

Wimol Ungprombundit, head of Phu Payon national park, said the precious payoong makes up 40% of the 1.2 million rai of deep forests in the upper Northeast encompassing the Phu Pan mountain range and the surrounding national parks.

The payoong forests have shrunk noticeably in the past several years, he said.

This area is thought to be the largest remaining expanse of payoong forest in Asia.

Many payoong reserves in neighbouring countries have been cut down.

He said active payoong logging in the Northeast started four years ago when he was chief of the bush fire unit.

The rosewood is in high demand in China for use in repairing old palaces and for making sacred objects and images such as the Guan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy.

He said businessmen hired local villagers to fell the trees. They offer the villagers high wages as the trees can be harvested for free. Even if arrested, the villagers are fined a ''negligible'' amount of up to 5,000 baht.

Many of those caught are quickly bailed out by local leaders and often return to their illegal felling immediately.

Each villager is paid up to 6,000 baht to cut and haul the timber per trip.

The logs are delivered to the border where they are taken across the Mekong River into Laos. The profit to the supplier at this point is extremely high.

Forestry and security sources said state officials were helping to ''facilitate'' the payoong smuggling.

Payoong logs from the forests are shipped by road to gathering points in Bung Kan, Nong Khai and Nakhon Phanom before being lashed together to be taken to the Mekong.

In Laos, the logs are labelled as local wood, piled together in container trucks and sent to China through Vietnam.

The sources said the timber usually arrives in China no more than five days after being felled in Thailand.

Jeerasak Sithandon, a ranger at the Phu Payon national park, said villagers played a crucial role in the logging.

They pinpoint mature payoong trees for the loggers who work with haulage teams to quickly get the logs out of the forest in specially-built carts.

The logs are then loaded onto pick-up trucks which rush to the meeting points. They avoid using large trucks to evade suspicion.

Each pickup is preceded by another vehicle to bribe officials they come across.

''When caught, they say they were only hired to transport the timber and know nothing else,'' Mr Jeerasak said.

''It's not that hard to suppress the illegal loggers. But if some officials look the other way, then that's the end of it.''

You can read the full story here:

crisis – a situation that has reached and extremely difficult or dangerous point ช่วงวิกฤต
poach – to illegally catch or kill an animal, bird, or fish or cut down trees on someone else’s property รุกล้ำ, บุกรุกล่าสัตว์หรือจับปลาหรือตัดต้นไม้
prized – very valuable to somebody มีค่า
expanse – a wide and open area of something, especially land or water พื้นที่กว้างขวาง
sustained – continuing at the same level ต่อเนื่อง
existence – the state of being a real or living thing, or of being present in a particular place, time, or situation การดำรงอยู่,การมีอยู่,การมีชีวิตอยู่,ความเป็นอยู่
resources – things such as money, workers and equipment that can be used to help achieve something ทรัพยากร
stretched – having difficulty doing everything that you should because you lack the necessary time, money, people, or equipment  
breaking point – the time when problems become so great that a person, an organization or a system can no longer deal with them จุดแตกหั
reserves – a supply of something that is available to be used in the future or when it is needed สิ่งที่สงนไว้
vast – extremely large in area, size, amount, etc.  กว้างใหญ่, มหาศาล
illegal – against the law ผิดกฎหมาย, นอกกฎหมาย
logger – a lumberjack; a person whose job is cutting down trees or cutting or transporting wood คนตัดไม้  
demand – the amount of a product or service that people want ความต้องการ
precious – of great value because of being rare, expensive or important มีค่า,ล้ำค่า
soar – to rise very quickly to a high level พุ่งพรวดขึ้น
involvement – the act or process of taking part in something การเกี่ยวข้อง
bent – dishonest; corrupt  ทุจริต, โกงกิน
hinder – to hamper; to stop someone or something from making progess or developing ขัดขวาง
timber – wood used for building houses or for making furniture ไม้ซุง
triple – to increase by three times the number or size of something  เพิ่มขึ้นสามเท่า
estimated – thought to be a particular amount, size, etc. based on a guess or the best information available ประมาณการ
fell – to cut down a tree โค่น
sacred – considered to be holy ศักดิ์สิทธิ์
object – a thing that can be seen and touched, but is not alive  วัตถุ, สิ่งของ
combined – mixed or put together รวมกัน
patrol – to move regularly around a place in order to prevent trouble or crime or to watch for an enemy ลาดตระเวน
smuggling – secretly and illegally taking goods or people into or out of a country ลักลอบขนสินค้าหรือคนเข้าและออกจากประเทศอย่างผิดกฎหมาย
unabated – without becoming any less strong ไม่ลดน้อยลง,ไม่อ่อนลง
such are the rewards – the rewards (benefits) are so high
concede – to admit that something is true ยอมรับว่าถูก
authorities – people who have the power to make decisions or enforce the law เจ้าหน้าที่ผู้มีอำนาจ
in league with – working together with, often in something improper; making secret plans with somebody  เป็นพรรคพวกของ,  ติดต่ออย่างลับๆกับ
arrested – caught by the police and taken to a police station because they are believed to have committed a crime ถูกจับกุม
conspire – to plan secretly with other people to do something bad, illegal or against someone's wishes วางแผนร้ายร่วมกัน
encompass – to include a large number or range of things รวมทั้ง,  รวมเข้าไว้ทั้งหมด
surrounding – all around a place  บริเวณรอบๆ
shrink (past form: shrunk) – to become smaller, or to make something smaller หดตัว, เล็กลง
noticeably – easily seen or noticed; clear or definite อย่างเห็นได้ชัด
neighbouring – located or living near or next to a place or person  ที่อยู่ใกล้เคียง, ที่ตั้งอยู่ใกล้เคียง
chief – a person with a high rank or the highest rank in a company or an organisation  หัวหน้า, ผู้นำ
bush fire – a fire in a large area of rough open ground, especially one that spreads quickly ไฟไหม้ป่าโปร่งหรือป่าละเมาะ
repair – to fix something that is broken or damaged ซ่อมบำรุง
palace – the official home of a king, queen, president, etc, a large impressive house พระราชวัง, ตำหนัก, ปราสาท
image – a photograph, painting, or other work of art that represents a person or thing รูปภาพ
goddess – a female god ทพธิดา (Goddess of Mercy เจ้าแม่กวนอิม, เทพเจ้าแห่งความเมตตา)
hire – to pay someone to work for you, especially for a short time จ้าง
local – in or related to the area that you live, or to the particular area that you are talking about  ท้องถิ่น
fell – to cut down a tree โค่น
wage – an amount of money that you earn for working, usually according to how many hours or days you work each week or month ค่าจ้าง
harvest – the activity of collecting a crop, in this case trees การเก็บเกี่ยวผลผลิต
fine – to be required to pay an amount of money because you have broken the law ปรับเป็นเงิน
negligible – very small or unimportant ซึ่งไม่สลักสำคัญ
bail – money that is given to a court when someone is allowed to stay out of prison until their trial. If they do not return for the trial, the court keeps the money  เงินประกัน; การประกันตัว
bail out – to pay somebody's bail for them ประกันตัวออกไป
immediately – happening right after something else with no delay; right away ทันที
haul – to pull something heavy slowly and with difficulty ลาก
border – the official line separating two areas, regions or countries  เขตแดน อาณาเขต
profit – money that you make from selling goods and services after all your costs have been paid กำไร
source – someone who gives information แหล่งข่าว
state – government รัฐบาล
facilitate – to make it possible or easier for something to happen ทำให้สะดวกขึ้น
gathering – the process of collecting something การรวบรวม
lash – to fasten something tightly to something else with ropes ผูกเชือก
label – to use a word or phrase to describe someone or something ติดชื่อ
local – in or related to the area that you live, or to the particular area that you are talking about  ท้องถิ่น
pile – to put objects one on top of another; objects positioned one on top of another กอง
ranger – a person whose job is to take care of a park, a forest or an area of countryside เจ้าหน้าที่ดูแลป่าหรืออุทยาน
crucial – extremely important because it effects the result of something สำคัญยิ่ง
play a role – to carry out a particular function or duty มีบทบาท
pinpoint – to show exactly where something is  เจาะจง, ชี้ตำแหน่ง
mature – fully grown เติบโตเต็มที่
rush – to move or do something very quickly รีบเร่ง,
avoid – to try to prevent something from happening หลีกเลี่ยง
evade – to avoid or escape from someone or something หลีกเลี่ยง
suspicion – a belief that a crime has been or is being committed ความสงสัย
precede – to go before something or come before something/somebody อยู่หน้า, นำหน้า
bribe – to give money or presents to someone so that they will help you by doing something dishonest or illegal ติดสินบน
transport – to move people or things from one place to another   ขนส่ง
suppress – to stop something illegal from happening ปราบ, ปราบปราม


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