Parks dept responds to WHC concern over illegal logging
Authorities have labelled the illegal logging of pricey agarwood as an "international crime" after the World Heritage Committee (WHC) expressed concern over theft of the timber from the Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Uthai Thani province.
In order to stop the logging from spiralling out of control, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation spokesman Sompoch Maneerat said on Thursday that the department is imposing measures such as including local villagers in conservation efforts and enhancing the capacity of the forest patrol with help from the military.
The World Heritage Committee, the international body that overseas Unesco's World Heritage sites, last month submitted a letter to the department after it received a report of a deadly clash between forest rangers and a group of Vietnamese poachers in the area. A forest ranger was seriously injured while a Vietnamese poacher died in the skirmish on Sept 5.
Agarwood is used to produce one of the world's most sought-after oil fragrances which is used in traditional medicines and cosmetics, and fetches over 40,000 baht per kilogramme. The wood is listed in Cites' Appendix II, which only allows it to be logged by a licensed operator.
"We have tried our best to limit crimes against our natural resources. The number of arrests, however, is still limited to only one or two cases a year. Now we worry that international poachers are trying to enter into the core area of the wildlife sanctuary," said Mr Sompoch.
According to the department's information, Vietnamese poachers were found in the area two years ago. At that time, three were arrested with 600 grammes of agarwood. In July, 4kg of agarwood was confiscated and 44 of the trees were illegally cut down the following month. The authorities, however, did not arrest any wrongdoers.
According to the department's information, the poachers have moved to the adjacent Mae Wong and Klong Lan national parks. These are both areas that the department is planning to annex as part of Unesco's World Heritage programme. In September, Vietnamese poachers were arrested and one was shot and killed by forest rangers in the Mae Wong National Park.
Mr Sompoch played down fears that the report might prompt the WHC to withdraw its World Heritage site status, saying that the problem is under control. The department is focused on investigating to find out who is behind the illegal logging, he said.
The department learned from the culprits arrested in September that they had entered the country via Nong Khai province and were taken to Udon Thani, Phitsanulok and Nakhon Sawan provinces respectively. It was able to confirm that the person who reserved hotels for the poaching gang was Vietnamese. The department also suggested that Thai people might have been involved in the illegal activities.