A Lao forestry official admits that illegal logging in his country for illicit lumber trading is increasingly prevalent and difficult to control or eliminate, because of collaboration and cooperation between investors, officials and local people who are hired as loggers.
Mr. Veunvang Bouttalath, Chief of the Forest Inspection Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, says major causes contributing to forest decline in Laos are slash and burn agriculture, burning down trees to clear land for unauthorized development, cutting down trees and hiding them for next year's quota, cutting down more than allowed by quotas granted by provincial authorities, and letting trees die and waste away.
He adds that cooperation and collaboration between investors, provincial officials and local laborers hired to cut trees make it difficult to prevent and suppress the illegal activities. That, combined with inadequate budget and lack of proper equipments, results in more and more illegal logging throughout the country.
A government survey in 1992 indicated that forests occupied about 48% of Laos' land areas then. That percentage was found to have decreased to 41% in a 2002 survey. However, Lao authorities have admitted that, in reality, forest density might be no more than 35% of the total national land areas because, in addition to widespread illegal logging, various development projects such as dams and infrastructures, have considerably contributed to the destruction and decline of forests in Laos.
For example, to develop the Nam Theun 2 hydropower project, more than 700,000 metric cubes of trees have been cut down and cleared off the Nakai Plateau to make way for the reservoir. Similarly, over 200,000 metric cubes have been cut down to make way for the Sekaman 3 dam project in southern Laos.
Songrit Pongern reported from Bangkok on 2/23/09.(English translation by Dara Baccam).
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