Massive Tree-Planting Ceremony to Preserve Forest Sanctuary in Oddar Meanchey

Six thousand seedlings from endangered tree species were planted in Oddar Meanchey province, on the degraded land of the Sangrukhavorn Wildlife Sanctuary, as activists voice concern on crimes raging the forest. Photo: CambodiaYouth Network

PHNOM PENH – Six thousand seedlings from endangered tree species were planted in Oddar Meanchey province, on the degraded land of the Sangrukhavorn Wildlife Sanctuary, as activists voice concern on crimes raging the forest.

On July 17, a total of 1,000 monks, the public, youth, non-governmental organizations, local authorities, and forest communities participated in the event, planting 6,000 trees, including 500 edible fruit trees, said Sat Thlai, a member of the Sangrukhavorn Community Forest.

He said the event aimed to promote the contribution to restoring forest cover, reducing global warming, and climate change, and promoting and cultivating love towards natural resources.

In August 2020, 1,600 luxurious trees, such as rosewood, were already planted but were quickly flooded because of bad weather conditions, prompting the community to hold another tree planting event this year, Thlai said.

“This is a major opportunity for the monks of Sangrukhavorn Wildlife Sanctuary to restore the forest and natural resources,” he said. “We hope to restore the forest cover and prevent climate change or natural catastrophe like a tornado.”

The Sangrukhavorn Community Forest also known as Monks’ Community Forest was declared in 2000 by Venerable Bun Salout, a former provincial chief of monks in Oddar Meanchey province.

Since it was established, the community has had to face a constant issue: encouraging the participation of the public to contribute to the preservation of the forest, said Venerable Tho Thoross, chief monk of the Sangrukhavorn Community Forest.

Some real challenges like logging of rosewood, illegal trapping, fishing crime, wildlife hunting or intentional forest fires to grab land are continuously harming the sanctuary’s natural resources and wild animals, he said.

Patrolling around the site is carried out daily to track forest and natural resource crimes, and monitor the traps which were dispersed in the forest, said Thoross.

Almost twenty years after being founded, the Sangrukhavorn community forest, which covers a total area of 18,261 hectares, saw its surface nearly doubled. On April 5, 2018, the Royal Government issued a sub-decree to establish the Sangrukhavorn Wildlife Sanctuary, merging together the Sangrukhavorn and Ratanak Rukha community forests, with a total new area of 30,254 hectares of protected land.

“The actions we are taking are for the communities living around the forest who are its first beneficiaries,” he said.

Sat Thlai said that the community aims to develop the area into an ecotourism site, with many dense trees and a recreation garden to attract tourists. He urged the public to help protect and preserve the sanctuary as it is the last forest with abundant natural resources in Oddar Meanchey province.

“In terms of protection, we are not just planting trees so that forests will grow well again. We also call on people not to indirectly destroy the forest by buying furniture made of luxury woods,” he said. “But in our perpetual efforts, we are lacking the participation of people who really want to protect nature and its resources.”

Thlai went on to say that the participation of women is crucial in preserving the sanctuary, as they can report forest crimes while they go to the forest for their personal enjoyment or fruit picking.

Hourn Manit, deputy governor of Oddar Meanchey province, said the participants, who came from various locations across the country, showed a willingness to contribute to the protection and preservation of the forest.

“I hope the trees planted will provide abundant benefits in the future for local people,” he said.

Sangrukhavorn community forest is spread across three districts: Chongkal, Anlong Veng and Samrong. Even though it was first declared as a community forest in 2000, the protected area had to wait and struggle to be officially recognized.

Two years after being established, the area that residents of Oddar Meanchey province used to call “Prey Lok”–which means “Monk Forest”–was recognized by the provincial authorities in 2002.

In 2007, the monks then requested their protected forest to be recognized at the State level by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. Though it was labeled as a community forest, the ministry turned down their request.

But in Nov. 19, 2008, the Agriculture Ministry reconsidered its decision and officially recognized the community forest, with a total area of 18,261 hectares. In 2018, the forest was turned into the Sangrukhavorn Wildlife Sanctuary.

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