MAPS GUIDE WAY TO END ENCROACHMENT, LEAVING WOODLAND DWELLERS IN PEACE
OVERLAPPING claims by the government and woodland communities have for years caused headaches for forestry officials. Despite efforts to suppress encroachment on protected forests, it continues to occur and is even increasing, thanks in large part to unclear boundaries.
The National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department (DNP) recently moved to clarify boundaries around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries and around existing communities within them.
Jongklai Worapongsathorn, its deputy chief, is confident the government’s new forest policy, known as Khor Tor Chor, will finally end the stand-offs. (Khor Tor Chor is the Thai abbreviation for the national land-policy committee)
“The challenge ahead will be to ensure that people living in the forests can enjoy a good quality of life,” Jongklai said.
“And once we have people living in the forests in a sustainable way, I think we can stop deforestation too. I take this as the beginning, the major forest reform of my time.”
The Prayut government, in consultation with the land-policy committee and Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, initiated a major shift in forest policy in mid-2018, allowing forest dwellers to remain in place but under different conditions, varying with the fragility of the forest ecosystem around them.
Their individual land holdings will be collectively managed as a single, large-scale property called plaeng ruam – a concept that Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha borrowed from Israel’s kibbutzim farm communes.
Forestry officials are confident the arrangement will help prevent land from changing hands multiple times, which can lead to an endless cycle of encroachment.
The DNP began making preparations two years earlier, instructing officials to work with the communities to delineate clear boundaries for maps of the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. In a first, the resulting charts included 293 protected forests.
The aim was to verifiably demarcate the lands under DNP supervision and those where forest communities had overlapping claims.
The fruit of the effort is a stunning array of useful data covering 5.2 million of the 71 million rai of protected forests where there are overlapping claims.
With settled boundary lines based on GPS measurements and on-site inspections, the DNP has been able to identify three groups of forest dwellers to whom the terms of the Khor Tor Chor can be applied.
The first group was in place before 1998, when the Cabinet initiated stricter forest policy.
The second group settled in woodlands between 1998 and 2014, when the ruling junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), issued Orders 64 and 66, a new policy intended to let poor forest inhabitants remain in place.
Those in the third group, having moved into forests since 2014, are deemed to be illegally encroaching and will be dealt with under new conditions and measures addressed in the amendment to forest-use law.
Jonklai views the distinctions as a boon for efforts to suppress large-scale encroachment by those who took advantage of periods of unclear policy and measures to grab forestland, a phenomenon seen particularly between 1998 and 2014.
Such “big-time” encroachers would be treated quite differently from the underprivileged forest denizens and “dealt with”, he vowed.
The new maps will be delivered today to the chiefs of national parks and sanctuaries, Jongklai said, and they must adhere strictly to the new boundaries, or else face punishment.
He said it was not yet known how many large-scale encroachers there are, but that number should be clear soon following a screening process.
Sasin Chalermlarp, president of the conservationist Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, hailed the policy as a major shift in the management of protected forests.
Officials would from now on have a precise tool to guide their actions in the forest, he said, akin to a conflict-management mechanism that will allow woodland dwellers to live in harmony alongside the wildlife.
“This gives us hope that, from now on, they can live together in peace” and safe from harsh arrests, said Sasin.
DNP inspector Sompong Thongsikhem initiated the mapping project based on a similar programme called Jom Pa conducted in the Western Forest Complex. He said the department now had an almost complete toolkit for protecting the woods and fending off encroachment.
While the Smart Patrol programme is protecting the lush forests, he said, the maps and other Khor Tor Chor measures will guide actions taken in areas where there has already been encroachment.
“The works need to go alongside to ensure sustainable forest management, “ said Sompong.