Forest in Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia. Photo by Dtfman.
A proposed border checkpoint at Kbal Damrei, on Cambodia’s border with Vietnam, together with a new road leading up to it, may harm Cambodia’s Mondulkiri Protected Forest, according to a recent press release by WWF-Cambodia.
The proposed border crossing is slated to be developed within Mondulkiri Protected Forest, in Eastern Cambodia. Across the border in Vietnam is the Yok Don National Park, the largest nature reserve in the country.
“The only way to reach the border crossing would be through the protected area,” Thomas Gray, Manager of Species Conservation for WWF Greater Mekong, told mongabay.com.
The Srea Ampom-Kbal Damrei road, proposed to connect the Kbal Damrei border crossing, will cut across Mondulkiri Province, with about 36 kilometres of the proposed road within Mondulkiri Protected Forest, Gray and other experts from WWF wrote in a technical review. Of this, nearly 19 kilometres of the road is proposed to lie within a Special Ecosystem Zone of the forest, home to numerous threatened wildlife species including one of the largest populations of Asian elephants in Cambodia, the review notes.
“The road that will be constructed follows a request from Vietnam,” Svay Sam Eang, Deputy provincial governor of Cambodia, told The Cambodia Daily. “They requested it a long time ago and they requested it because they want a road which makes it easy to cross from Dalat province to Mondolkiri province.”
But Gray told mongabay.com that experts at WWF-Cambodia believe that the proposed border crossing, as well as the road, is completely incompatible with conservation and sustainable development.
The new border crossing will require a road through a large section of the protected forest. Photo courtesy of WWF. Click image to enlarge.
Construction of the road has not started yet, he added, but if approved by the Ministry of Interiors, construction is probably likely to begin at the beginning of the next dry-season.
According to the review undertaken by WWF-Cambodia, the road is not likely to not add much value to the already existing infrastructure, communication and transport network within the Mondulkiri Province.
To make their case, the experts explain that no villages exist within a five-kilometer buffer of the 36-kilometer road. The nearest village to the proposed road is about 15 to 20 kilometers away, on the edge of the protected area, Gray said.
Moreover, four border checkpoints already exist at Keo Seima, Dakdam, Bousra-Namlyr, and Chimeat along the 210-kilometer border between Cambodia and Vietnam in Mondulkiri Province. These checkpoints are well-connected by existing roads and infrastructure that covers majority of the province’s population, the review notes.
“So there is insufficient evidence that the new proposed road will provide any net benefits to Cambodia,” the review adds. “In contrast the proposed road will increase pressures of deforestation, illegal logging, land encroachment, illegal hunting, and illegal wildlife and timber trade. This will affect the opportunity for the establishment of sustainable nature based tourism that would bring long-term return to local communities and provincial government.”
Potential risks to Mondulkiri Protected Forest
Mondulkiri Protected Forest, nearly 400,000 hectares in area, was declared a Protected Forest by The Royal Government of Cambodia in July 2002. To its southwest, the protected area is contiguous with Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary, a 225,000-hectare critical protected area in Cambodia. Phnom Prich houses the core area of the largest Asian elephant herd in Cambodia.
Mondulkiri Protected Forest continues into the Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary in the northwest, and Phnom Nam Lyr Wildlife Sanctuary to the southeast. It also shares its borders with Yok Don National Park in Vietnam. Covering a total of over one million hectares, these protected areas together form one of the largest protected area complexes in Southeast Asia.
Cambodia’s forest cover has gone down from 72 percent in 1973 to less than 48 percent in 2014, according to data from Open Development Cambodia.
Mondulkiri Province, where Mondulkiri Protected Forest is located, lost about 36,300 hectares of tree cover from 2001 through 2013, according to Global Forest Watch. Mondulkiri Protected Forest, in particular, lost about 2,200 hectares of tree cover during the same time period.
Global Forest Watch shows Mondulkiri Protected Forest (outlined in green) is located within TX2 Tiger Conservation Landscapes, which are areas with confirmed tiger presence, and where wild tiger numbers could double by 2020 through effective conservation efforts. Click to enlarge.
About 97 percent of the land within the five-kilometer buffer of the proposed road is currently forested, the review notes. It says the proposed road through Mondulkiri Protected Forest will lead to considerable deforestation within the protected area.
The two major forest types within this area – mixed deciduous, and semi-evergreen – are very important for the local communities for non-timber forest product harvest, the review states. Wild honey extracted from these forests, for instance, has an estimated annual value of over $10,000, the experts add.
Moreover, there are no roads inside Mondulkiri Protected Forest at present, Gray said. So the construction of a new road through the protected area could facilitate access for illegal hunting and timber harvesting.
“The Cambodia-Vietnam within Mondulkiri Protected Forest already experiences high levels of illegal hunting and timber harvesting,” WWF experts state in the review. For instance, in 2014, patrols over 8,000 kilometers of border areas in Mondulkiri Protected Forest revealed 256 snares and 394 illegally logged trees, they added.
Mondulkiri Protected Forest is home to a wealth of wildlife, including endangered Indochinese tigers (Panthera tigris corbetti). Photo by H. Zell.
“A road improving access into this critical area for biodiversity would exponentially increase these threats; effective law enforcement to safeguard Cambodia’s natural resources would be difficult,” the review states.
The proposed road would also threaten the Cambodian government’s ambitious plans of restoring tiger populations in Cambodia, WWF warns.
Mondulkiri Protected Forest has been chosen as a priority site for establishing a delimited and inviolate tiger source site within the Cambodia Tiger Action Plan of the Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity, Forestry Administration.
According to the review, the proposed road will pass within two kilometers of the planned inviolate source site within the protected forest.
“Tiger restoration is a prestigious project for Cambodia and a unique opportunity for the Royal Government of Cambodia to become global leaders in effective species conservation,” the review states. “The proposed road would undermine all of these potential benefits and present a missed opportunity preventing Cambodia meeting its global obligations for tiger restoration.”
Mondulkiri Protected Forest is a treasure trove of biodiversity, Sam Ath Chhith, Country Director, WWF-Cambodia, said in WWF-Cambodia’s press statement.
“Unfortunately both the spectacular biodiversity and the tiger reintroduction are in jeopardy if this border crossing and road are built through the core zone of the protected forest,” he said.
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