Laos Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong ordered authorities to crack down on illegal logging and timber trafficking in the midst of accelerating forest loss, reports the Vientiane Times.
Under Thongsing’s directive, police and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will set up inspection teams on roads that run to China and Vietnam, the destination of most smuggled timber from Laos.
“If officials find smuggled timber they have the right to seize it and charge those involved in accordance with the Forestry Law,” Thongsing stated in the order, which was released this week, according to the Vientiane Times.
Immigration authorities will also step up border vigilance under the order, which calls for improve coordination between the military, police, officials, and local communities in protecting forests.
Forests in Laos have declined steadily in recent decades, falling from 64 percent cover in 1960 to 41 percent in 2005. Primary forests now cover less than 10 percent of the country according to U.N. data.
Deforestation in Laos has traditionally been driven by small-scale agriculture, but in recent years rubber and timber plantations have consumed large areas of native forest. Illegal logging has also taken a heavy toll on forests. Most of the timber — sometimes in the form of raw logs — ends up in Vietnam or China.
The new order calls on government ministries to improve wood processing within Laos to add value to timber products before they are exported.
(09/02/2009) Taking a cue from its much larger neighbor to the north, Vietnam has outsourced deforestation to neighboring countries, according to a new study that quantified the amount of displacement resulting from restrictions on domestic logging. Like China, Vietnam has experienced a resurgence in forest cover over the past twenty years, largely as a result a forestry policies that restricted timber harvesting and encouraged the development of processing industries that turned raw log imports into finished products for export. These measures contributed to a 55 percent of Vietnam’s forests between 1992 and 2005, while bolstering the country’s stunning economic growth. But the environmental benefit of the increase in Vietnam’s forest cover is deceptive: it came at the expense of forests in Laos, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Authors Patrick Meyfroidt and Eric F. Lambin of the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Belgium calculate that 39 percent of Vietnam’s forest regrowth between 1987 and 2006 was effectively logged in other countries. Half of the wood imports into Vietnam were illegal.
(05/21/2009) Policies promoting industrial rubber plantations over traditional swidden, or slash-and-burn, agriculture across Southeast Asia may carry significant environmental consequences, including loss of biodiversity, reduction of carbon stocks, pollution and degradation of local water supplies, report researchers writing in Science. Conducting field work in the Xishuangbanna prefecture of China’s Yunnan province and assessing broader regional trends, Alan Ziegler of the National University of Singapore and colleagues argue that policies favoring agricultural intensification over small-scale slash-and-burn have encouraged the rapid expansion of rubber plantations across more than 500,000 hectares (1,930 square miles) of montane forest in China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Despite widespread perception among authorities that “swidden cultivation is a destructive system that leads only to forest loss and degradation”, the researchers found that the transition to industrial plantations has not necessarily been a boon to the environment.
(04/20/2009) Deep in the rugged mountains of Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area (NEPL) on the Laos–Vietnam border, men smoke cigarettes and talk in hushed voices as they tramp through the forest. Approaching a baited trap, they hear the frantic snarls of an ensnared tiger. The tiger hangs by its front foot, suspended by a cable attached to a tree. The men shoot and make quick work of the tiger, removing its bones but leaving some of its carcass, including parts of its pelt, behind. The real money is no longer in tiger skins, but bones: the 10 to 12 kilograms of bone harvested from the adult tiger will yield $12,000-$15,000 in a region where per capita income is around $400 a year. Though the authorities are able to trace the weapon shells back to their village and locals know of the hunters’ haul, two years later the evidence has not been enough to hold the men accountable for their crimes.