Hundreds of golden teak trees poisoned
Villagers believe forest being cleared for dam
THAWEESAK SUKKHASEM and PIYAPORN WONGRUANG
Forestry officials examine illegally felled trees that were cut down after being poisoned with herbicide in Mae Yom national park in Phrae yesterday.
Phrae _ Hundreds of valuable golden teak trees have died in Mae Yom national park, and villagers believe they were poisoned to clear the way for a revival of the controversial Kaeng Sua Ten dam project.
Forestry officials have retrieved empty cans of herbicide from under the dead trees.
Villagers say at least 700 trees have been poisoned by people wanting to destroy the forest so that the long-shelved dam project could finally go ahead.
A large number of teak tree stumps were also found in the area. Villagers said the trees had been cut and loggers were preparing to haul the logs away.
The dead trees were discovered in tambon Sa Eiab, Song district, during a recent survey headed by a village leader.
Seng Khwanyuen, village head of Sak Thong village, said he had told local officials several times about the tree poisoning, but no one believed him.
He said his team found empty herbicide cans scattered on the forest floor.
He and other villagers believe poachers poisoned the trees to get the logs while at the same time ruining the fertile forest to justify dusting off the dam project.
Mr Seng said that in the areas his team surveyed more than 700 teak trees had died from herbicide poisoning.
There could be more dead trees in other areas of the park.
National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department chief Chalermsak Wanichsombat inspected the affected area in the national park on Saturday and said his initial survey confirmed the trees were poisoned.
Dead trees were easier to transport as they float better in water than freshly-cut timber.
He had instructed the head of the department's Phrae office, Prachakpong Thaiklang, to send him a report on the matter immediately.
Permsak Makarabhirom, former director of the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre Asia and the Pacific, said some of the trees may not have died, but merely shed their leaves.
The richness of the forest was no longer the momentum behind opposition to the planned dam.
The weight of the argument now centred on the dam's inability to prevent flooding in the lower northern provinces, Mr Permsak said.
Support for the dam project, originally put forward in 1989, resurfaces every time severe floods and drought hit the central and northern provinces.
Some believe the dam could help manage and prevent natural disasters in the area.
But the proposal faces stiff resistance from villagers and environmentalists, who fear the dam would flood a large portion of the country's richest and largest remaining golden teak forest in the national park.