The results of a three-month long independent review conducted by independent consultants of the Central Cardamoms Protected Forest (CCPF) program revealed that the 401,313 hectare region has the lowest deforestation rate compared to surrounding forests in the Northern Cardamom region, despite the enormous and increasing pressures it faces. Titled the ‘
,’ the report was requested at the behest of Conservation International (CI), with support from partners the Cambodian Forestry Administration (FA), after a decade of work in the CCPF. Its findings identify management successes, as well as needs for management improvements that CI can address with FA. Findings also contradicted allegations made against CI in media reports from 2011 and 2012.
The more than 150-page report, which independently investigated the program’s overall effectiveness, explored critical media allegations and made recommendations to inform the program’s management strategy, reported that “CI-Cambodia is not complicit in regards to illegal activities within the CCPF, as claimed.” The review team engaged partners, donors and government to ensure transparency in the process, while conducting interviews with more than a dozen local experts who possess understanding of the region. Reviewers also conducted a site visit to assess the forest condition and to learn more about enforcement operations, as well as reviewed satellite imagery analysis to measure deforestation. That imagery analysis showed that just 2% (9,089 ha) of the total CCPF area (401,313 ha) lost vegetation between 2006 and 2012, compared to 15% of the assessed buffer zone (based on a 10 km zone around the CCPF) during that same period (see deforestation map ). In his 2012 book “Cardamom Conundrum” Dr. Tim Killeen, a scientist formerly with Conservation International, wrote that deforestation in the greater Cardamom Region (some 2 million hectares total) is responsible for approximately 37 percent of all deforestation in Cambodia. The fact that there has never been any economic land or mining concessions issued inside the CCPF is highly significant of its impact, given that around 1.6 million hectares have been cleared in Cambodia over the past two years under such concessions.
“Clearing in the region that was observed inside the CCPF beginning in 2009 was largely due to the hydro-power dam land clearing concession on the western side of CCPF, which, unlike economic land concessions, are likely to continue to be permitted by the government as they are part of required land clearing prior to the dam construction. The hydro concessions are a growing concern to us, because they do contribute to forest clearing, and they can open the door to laundering illegal timber. It is important to understand though that the concessions themselves are not illegal,” said Tracy Farrell, Senior Technical Director of CI’s Greater Mekong Program. “CI is aware that we have a lot of work to do in our efforts to help the Forestry Administration and other government agencies address the on-going, difficult problem of illegal logging, that is growing more and more challenging to manage, and represents a critical issue facing the entire country.”
For more than ten years, CI has remained dedicated to working with the Cambodian government and local communities to protect the CCPF. It is one of the largest intact forest ecosystems remaining in Southeast Asia and second largest in the Indo-Burma bio-zone hotspot while also providing 30,000 local people with drinking water.
Among the high concentration of rare species living in the CCPF are Asian elephants (some 200 individuals), Siamese crocodiles, Eld’s deer, pileated gibbon, Asiatic black bear, gaur, banteng, pangolins, Impressed Tortoise, Great Hornbill and Dragon fish. It is also recognized as a centre of endemism being home to about half of Cambodia’s 2530 known endemic species. CI remains strongly committed to the long term protection of this vital forest through the CCPF program.
The review identified key weaknesses and needs for improvement, noting that there is illegal logging, hunting and other activities taking place within and around the Central Cardamoms Protected Forest. The team witnessed Cambodian Forestry Administration rangers stopping such activities, including a confiscation of a timber mill and the discovery of a shipment of luxury wood hidden under banana trees on a truck.
Other concerns noted in the review’s report include the lack of a systematic, strategic review of the CCPF’s operational capacity, unclear chain-of-command structures, and lack of milestones and performance indicators for the FA rangers who carry out the forestry enforcement in this program. The report further states that ‘these missing elements have undermined the program’s accountability, responsibility and transparency.’
Bunra Seng, Country Director of the CI Cambodia program said that “CI is dedicated to building capacity in Cambodia to eventually transition away from a direct support role in favor of building a trust fund for the CCPF that will allow for sustainable financing. In light of the review findings and recommendations, however, CI will increase its current support of CCPF management, first by hiring a site manager, and second by addressing the primary deficiencies identified in the review.”
The review team determined that it would be “potentially environmentally catastrophic for support to the Program and its staff to decline further.” Many of the review recommendations require additional donor support and commitment.
The independent review has already paved the way for improved management of the CCPF, prompting the FA to propose that its team and CI conduct a nationwide enforcement workshop to share lessons learned from both the successes and failures of this program across NGOs and government agencies. CI additionally plans to present the review results to CCPF stakeholders, NGOs, donors, and government agencies to further discussions about the review’s lessons and recommendations in the context of the CCPF program and how they can be used to benefit protected area and forest management more widely throughout Cambodia.
“CI urges the donor community, government, civil society and the public to support our efforts in the Central Cardamoms Protected Forest,” Farrell said. “We want to address all of the review recommendations and maintain the CCPF as a flagship protected area for Cambodia. It is our hope that the results of this review not only benefit CCPF and our work here with our partners, but also other protected areas in Cambodia, as we all face similar challenges and are all pursuing the same conservation objectives. We must start working together to achieve these goals.”
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
Deforestation map and photos are available for download here: (***Please Provide Image Credits***)
Highlighted Positive findings of the ‘Review of Conservation International’s Activities in the Central Cardamoms Protected Forest, Cambodia.’:
- The review noted that ‘CI and FA, and their staff, have a great deal to be proud of in their work in the CCPF.’ These include:
- The creation of the government supported CCPF, the first and arguably most effective protected area in Cambodia’s history;
- The ten years that CI have implemented the community engagement program and facilitated community involvement in the conservation of the CCPF;
- The increased scientific knowledge generated from research which has highlighting the significant biodiversity of the area and lead to the establishment of several successful wildlife protection programs for key globally threatened, endemic species (including Siamese crocodiles, dragon fish, bear, guar, gibbon and pangolins);
- The protection of a watershed that ensures quality drinking water for 30,000 people downstream and maintains water flows for the Tonle Sap;
- The protection of the land itself from development pressures – as there have been no economic land or mining concessions issued inside the CCPF ever. This is highly significant around 16 million hectares have been cleared in Cambodia over the past two years under such concessions.
Emmeline Johansen, Communications Manager, Conservation International
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