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More Phuket forest destroyed



More Phuket forest destroyed | Thaiger

KATA, PHUKET: Two men were arrested on March 19 in what appears to be a large scheme to slash down and develop protected forest land in Phuket.

During a routine patrol of land near the Kata viewpoint along Kata-Sai Yuan road, Karon Sub-District Chief (Kamnan) Winai Chitcheiw discovered around five rai of deforested land.

Although most of the trees cut down were ubiquitous rubber trees, several were protected species, such as the Malabar Ironwood (Takian).

At the scene were two men with a backhoe and chainsaw. They were arrested and taken for questioning to Chalong Police Station where they denied any involvement in the deforestation. They claimed they had been hired to cut down one tree, amid a broad swath of deforested land, that would not fall over as it was leaning against another.

They claimed they had arrived at the scene only minutes before being spotted by Kamnan Winai.

Chalong Police Inspector Boonlert Ongklang said the two Rawai men were charged with ‘converting wood’ without permission from the Phuket Provincial Office of Natural Resources and Environment (PPONRE).

After discovering the first plot, Kamnan Winai came upon another, much larger swath of deforestation, below the Kata viewpoint.

The second area is off Laem Mumnai Road, about 100 meters from the Kata viewpoint, on the hillside of Laem Pha which until recently was inaccessible.

Kamnan Winai noted that this had been changed because a rough, 500-meter track had been cut by a backhoe along the hillside, granting access to the deforested area.

Kamnan Winai explained that the majority of this 100-rai forest area, where the developments are taking place, is either Forest Department land or part of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s land reform program, which sets aside land for agricultural use only. Permission must be granted for a lease on the land and no deeds are issued.

Only one 30-rai plot out of the 100-rai area is privately owned, while an adjacent 39 rai are in the hands of a large Bangkok-based real-estate developer.

However, a deed has yet to be granted for the second plot, as rights to the land were granted under the land reform program.

Both plots on Laem Pha are surrounded by protected land, preventing access.

After speaking with villagers in the area, Kamnan Winai believes that the deforestation and illegal road construction have been undertaken by a group of business operators to add value to seaside plots – incentives for construction or sale in the future.

He said, “The view from this point is stunning and Laem Pha is a beautiful diving area where one can see Kata Noi Beach on the right. No wonder someone has deforested this area for their own benefit.”

“As a community leader and defender against deforestation, I am ashamed of what is happening here. Environmental and anti-deforestation campaigns are growing around the world, yet Phuket is still having problems, specifically in the area under my charge. How can we keep Phuket green?” he added.

Kamnan Winai is particularly concerned about the damaging effects of deforestation after rainfall.

“Rain will erode the land surface causing sediment to accumulate in the sea, covering underwater coral and destroying the scenery that makes this place so beautiful,” he said.

Kamnan Winai has sent a report to the Muang District and Governor Wichai Phraisa-ngop, and is awaiting further investigation by the Phuket Provincial Office.

— Pimwara Choksakulpan


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