Protect park, people
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Protect park, people

The #savethaplan -- a conservation campaign against the use of the "One Map" policy to redraw the demarcation of national parks -- is now trending in the top spot on Thai social media.

In just a few days, over 70,000 nature lovers have signed in support of the campaign to protect 265,286 rai of forest land in Thap Lan National Park.

This successful online petition is surprisingly in sync with a public hearing that that has been organised both onsite and online by the Department of National Parks Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) on the same topic from June 28 to July 12.

The onsite hearing was held among communities living around Thap Lan National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima, Sa Kaew and Prachin Buri provinces.

DNP officials such as National Park Office director Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn have openly supported the #savethaplan scheme.

He has even given media interviews warning that the One Map policy will convert precious forest land in national parks into Sor Por Kor plots that will eventually end up in the hands of land developers.

Those warnings are worrying, to say the least.

Yet there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the issue of forest land management in Thap Lan and other national parks.

While thousands of people disagree with the One Map policy despite only having heard about it for the first time, many local villagers told the public hearing that they welcome it. For local villagers, One Map will clean up issues related to overlapping land and end their conflicts with the DNP.

They have valid reasons.

When the Thai government declared Thap Lan to be a national park in 1981, local forest dwellers were outlawed even though their descendants had lived there previously.

With the land lines redrawn and newly introduced rules like One Map being much more fair, these villagers had been expecting they could return to the forest and make sustainable use of it.

What happened to the forest dwellers in Thap Lan shows the extent to which our land management policy is in bad shape. For decades, conservationists, villagers and academics have pressed policymakers to pass a forest management law that recognises the rights of local people, as well as better maps to reduce overlapping land and false clams.

The nine agencies responsible for land management now use different maps. Needless to say, conflicts and violations are inevitable.

The One Map policy was developed over eight years ago to put agencies on the same page and clear up any land conflicts between the state and villagers. It is not a physical map; rather, it is a consensus-based policy in which the nine government agencies and landlords, such as the Treasury Department, work together to clear overlapping land claims and draw new lines.

Make no mistake: the One Map policy is no magic pill. First and foremost, the government needs to put in place guardrails to prevent annexed land from falling into the wrong hands.

Instead of moving designated plots to new agencies like the Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro) as the #savethaplan campaigners warned, these annexed plots must be pooled and overseen by national land management committees that will decide where these plots will go and who is entitled to have access to them.

The government must listen to all sides and make a sound policy to protect Thap Lan forest and its villagers.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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