ENVIRONMENT Minister General Surasak Kanchanarat yesterday dismissed fresh calls from some forest community representatives for the utilisation of pristine forests excluded from the latest forestland survey and demarcation, arguing that possible changes in the modest way of living of forest dwellers could affect the forest ecosystem.
Calls by the activists to let forest dwellers utilise pristine forests were made at a seminar on co-existence of people, forests and wildlife, held in conjunction with the handover ceremony of detailed maps of 293 protected areas nationwide, at the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department.
Decho Chaithap, a longtime community forestry advocate and vice president of NGO Coordinating Committee on Development-North, said it’s the fact that forest dwellers were utilising the pristine forests out of their overlapping territories. He also said the extent to which they could continue doing so or get involved in the management of this area should be clarified.
The minister, however, cited possible changes in the way of life among forest dwellers due to developments outside. He also cited facts to prove that the way of life of forest-dwellers in some areas posed a threat to wild animals, arguing for the government’s latest forest policy that allowed the dwellers to continue living only in overlapping territories and make the best use of them.
“There may be some changes in their way of living, like for instance the need for a mobile phone. So would communities still be happy living the same way? That’s why we need to make it clear somewhere and anything beyond this would be considered illegal,” said Surasak.
The Prayut Chan-o-cha government, in consultation with the land-policy committee and Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, initiated a major shift in forest policy in mid-2018, known as Khor Tor Chor, allowing forest dwellers to continue inhabitation but under different conditions, due to 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 Prayut 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 ago, instructing officials to work with the communities to delineate clear boundaries of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries as well as the communities inside. The first set of maps cover 293 protected forests.
The maps were handed out to all chiefs yesterday to implement the new policy, with instructions to adhere strictly to the new boundaries or face punishment.
Decho said while the calls by the activists could be discussed further, he believed the government’s new forest policy was at least a boon to the forest dwellers and the country as whole as it has now provided an opportunity to develop a clear direction and rules.
Participation, however, remains a challenge for the success of the policy.
National Human Rights commissioner Tuenjai Deetes said public participation after this should be made clear and officials should adjust their attitudes to more fully embrace the different ways of life and customs of forest dwellers, a point the minister also agreed.