Conservation International turns a blind eye to illegal logging in the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia

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Conservation International turns a blind eye to illegal logging in the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia

Last month, the Phnom Penh Post published a shocking article about the illegal logging of rosewood in the Central Cardamom Protected Forest in Cambodia. According to the article, the illegal logging is abetted by military personnel, while Conservation International, which is working with the Cambodian government to manage the protected area, denies that the trade is taking place.

The CCPF is one of the largest conservation areas in Cambodia, covering 401,313 hectares. Conservation International has been working to protect the forest since 2001. On one Sunday night in December 2011, Phnom Penh Post journalists counted “at least nine industrial transport trucks, seven pick-up trucks and one Land Rover packed with timber drive out of Koh Kong province’s Thma Bang district in the CCPF on one road alone”. They could hear “large numbers of trucks” driving along a nearby road. The journalists wrote that,

Villagers, loggers and conservationists have verified that Forestry Administration officials, military officers and rangers working in partnership with the NGO Conservation International are making no effort to stop the massive trade in protected rosewood.

In many cases, it is alleged, they are actively profiting.

A conservation researcher who has “worked extensively” in Koh Khong provice’s Thma Bang district told the journalists,

“It’s like a gold rush – the value of rosewood is so high, it’s irresistible for cutters and middlemen.

It’s all relatively organised, how much the loggers and middlemen have to pay, and to whom. They know which checkpoints they have to go through. It has apparently reached the stage where most young men in Tatai Leu commune [in Thma Bang district] have been absorbed into the rosewood extraction.”

The journalists reported the researcher as saying that “officials working with CI stationed at a checkpoint on road 48 – the only avenue out of Thma Bang – are allowing trucks carrying rosewood to drive straight through in exchange for ‘taxes’”.

Conservation International denied any wrong-doing whatsoever. David Emmett, Conservation International’s Senior Vice President for the Asia-Pacific Field Division, said in a statement that,

“A recent story in a Cambodian newspaper has made a number of claims about the practices of Conservation International (CI) in Cambodia’s Central Cardamoms Protected Forest that are dramatically inaccurate and patently untrue. CI Cambodia completely refutes the suggestion that it is turning a ‘blind eye’ to illegal logging or that it is complicit in any way with the practices alleged in the newspaper story.”

Conservation International explained to mongabay.com that it “does not oversee enforcement, and does not maintain or facilitate any checkpoints or rangers in or outside the CCPF.”

“Rather, we provide grants to the Forestry Administration to support ongoing monitoring of the CCPF such as upkeep of ranger stations, GPS technology, provision of equipment, outfits and salary supplements to strengthen and increase the numbers of rangers, and diesel for their patrols; in other words, CI provides supportive funding, the government does the patrolling. In fact, CI does not even have staff on the ground in the Central Cardamoms Protected Forest – our team works with the local communities outside this area.”

Conservation International provides the money to the Forestry Administration from its Global Conservation Fund. The Global Conservation Fund receives its money from the Moore Foundation and is supposed to “finance the creation, expansion and long-term management of protected areas”. The money, according to Conservation International’s website,

supports on-site surveillance and enforcement systems by Conservation International’s Cambodia Program to provide immediate protection for the area, which is under threat from illegal logging and hunting activities.

The program advises the Royal Government of Cambodia on protected area management, as well as training and patrolling.

Surely Conservation International’s advice to the Cambodian Government, must include something about the importance of dealing with illegal logging?

In any case, if Conservation International is paying the Forestry Administration to patrol the Central Cardamom Protected Forest and the Forestry Administration is doing little or nothing to stop large scale illegal logging from taking place, then Conservation International has a problem to deal with. Attempting to pass the buck will solve nothing. Obviously, as a US-based NGO, Conservation International is not responsible for arresting illegal loggers in Cambodia. But pretending that the organisation has no responsibility, despite the fact that it is helping fund the Forestry Administration, is simply unacceptable.

In its response to the article, Conservation International states that large amounts of rosewood are not found with the Central Cardamom Protected Forest and that the logging is taking place outside the protected area:

“[Rosewood] occurs mostly in open semi-deciduous or broadleafed forest, and is most abundant in lowland forest. Most of the 402,000ha CCPF is entirely unsuitable for rosewood to occur in significant densities due to the high altitude and steep slopes. . . The CCPF consists predominantly of hill evergreen forest with pine forest and montane grasslands on the plateau. The areas described in the article are lowland forests to the south of the CCPF, not the CCPF itself, so this represents an error in geography and is well outside the geography of our project area.”

But in a brochure about its work in the CCPF, Conservation International explains that preserving the forests around the CCPF is an important part of Conservation International’s work:

Another important component of the strategy has been working in the broader Cardamom landscape beyond the CCPF. Conserving the forests outside the protected area is important for mitigating the effects of climate change. These forests are currently experiencing high rates of deforestation and degradation. Their protection will reduce the amount of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere, contributing positively to climate stabilization. It will also serve to buffer the CCPF from detrimental threats.

There is no doubt that illegal logging in Cambodia is rampant and is a serious threat to the forests. The fact is that the Cambodian authorities are unable or unwilling to address illegal logging and are, in some cases at least, directly profiting from it. This has obvious implications for REDD in Cambodia. Unless the underlying causes of deforestation are addressed, including illegal logging, REDD stands no chance of succeeding. It is difficult to see why Conservation International appears stubbornly incapable of grasping this simple point.


PHOTO Credit: Will Baxter, Phnom Penh Post.

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3 Comments

  1. Bombard Harrison’s Ford website and Twitter et al and let him know that the world is watching the debacle with CI is involved with …he is on their executive team!

  2. And while you’re at it, bombard ALL NGO’s receiving grant money from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which is among the principle funders of Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy, among many other despicable corporate front groups.

  3. An alike situation can be found in Western Siem Pang, Stung Tring Province. The situation there is such that BirdLife International Cambodian Program has accepted conservation responsibility for 150,000 ha forest (mainly DDF), but proper forest protection activities are blocked by the Management of that project. The reason behind is the fear of the managers to become target of the Cambodian logging mafia. It is of course very understandable that certain characters are not willing to get into harm’s way. But then such characters should not try to make their living through working as Managers in projects where forest conservation plays a main role. If they do so and block any proper enforcement of the Cambodian forest laws then they degenerate to “helpers” of the logging mafia as I see it done in Western Siem Pang.
    More details are available through Thomas Kuenzel.

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