Minister: No more forest ranger cuts this year
Welfare benefits to remain unchanged
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said he will maintain the current number of forest rangers and keep their welfare intact despite the ministry's limited budget.
He made the promise in front of hundreds of rangers under the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), the Department of Royal Forest (DRF) and the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) on Saturday to celebrate Ranger Day at the Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima.
"I understand the difficulty of rangers' work," he said. "I will try to do my best to make your jobs secure.
"I assure you that we will not have a policy to reduce [the number] of rangers this year," he said.
At the beginning of the year, the ministry reduced the number of DNP rangers from 5,163 to 3,432, or a 33% cut.
Some also had their salaries reduced by up to 25% due to budget cuts stemming from the DNP's loss of tourism income amid Covid-19 closures at national parks last year, he said.
At the time, the ministry also announced it would make more budget cuts in October, which has rattled some staff worried about their jobs.
Currently, the total number of rangers from all departments under its wing is about 20,000, with about 80% holding a temporary staff status, Mr Varawut said.
These staff earn about 9,000 baht per month and do not receive fringe benefits or life insurance, the minister said.
Mr Varawut said their work is to protect Thailand's natural resources, adding one forest ranger oversees an area of about 20,000 rai.
He said he is aware that rangers have faced financial difficulty stemming from low salaries and lack of welfare benefits, which undervalues their job as protectors of natural resources.
The minister said he was doing what he can to help.
"I have instructed chiefs and director-generals of every unit to provide salaries for rangers on time because even being a few days late can place them in a tough situation," Mr Varawut said.
Meanwhile, the ministry will try to allocate more money for ranger allowances and insurance as a sign of appreciation for their work, he added.
Phitsanu Polthanapaisan, 35, a ranger with the Chet Sao Noi National Park in Saraburi province, told Bangkok Post that he has worked to protect the forest for over seven years.
He said he likes his job because he is passionate about forest protection and conservation.
He said all forest rangers have tried to do their best in their duties but salaries and social welfare benefits are very limited for what the job entails.
"We need the ministry to provide better social welfare for us," he said.
Khalid Pasha, Asia coordinator for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Green List, said a ranger's work is one of the most dynamic and diverse jobs.
They play an important role in wildlife conservation, he said.
For example, DNP efforts in protecting tigers help position the country as a champion of tiger conservation in the Southeast Asia region, he said, noting it is a model for many countries to follow.
Due to the DNP, Thap Lan National Park's tiger population is rapidly recovering, he said, adding he hopes the number of tigers in the Khao Yai national Park will also increase.
"Let us recognise and remember the many rangers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, protecting Thailand's forest, wildlife and coastal marine areas," he said.
Last year, the country lost 19 rangers, while six were seriously injured in their duty, according to the DNP.