CONSERVATION MAE YOM PARK, LAW ENFORCEMENT
Teak tree poisoning verified, park sealed
The National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department has sealed-off teak-rich Mae Yom national park in Phrae province to prevent the smuggling of about 300 dead teak trees from the forest. Chalermsak Wanichsombat, the department chief, issued the order yesterday and also transferred the national park chief, Mongkol Sang-arun, to an inactive post for alleged dereliction of duty leading to severe damage to the country's most pristine teak forest.
The move came after villagers from tambon Sa-iab in Song district and a green group on Sunday found hundreds of valuable golden teak trees poisoned and dead.
Some of them had fallen down and been hauled out of the area, they said.
Forestry officials retrieved empty herbicide cans from under the dead trees.
The villagers strongly believe the trees were poisoned to clear the way for a revival of the controversial Kaeng Sua Ten dam project, which would be possible if the pristine forest becomes degraded.
Mr Chalermsak, who inspected the area yesterday, confirmed the villagers' finding and suspected that the mass destruction of high-grade teak trees was done by illegal loggers.
He said 269 teak trees had been poisoned, not more than 700 as earlier reported. The dead trees would be left where they were and would not be taken out for auction as previously speculated, to prevent claims that officials deliberately felled the trees to earn money auctioning off the timber. Under forestry law, seized illegally logged timber belongs to the state and is auctioned off.
The department chief also insisted that the culprits would be brought to justice as soon as possible.
Sa-iab villagers, who are known for their forest conservation role, lauded the department's decision not to sell the timber, saying the move would ''white-wash'' the teak poaching gang's business.
Prasidhiporn Karn-ornsri, an adviser to the Mae Yom forest conservation group, however, doubted the official report that there were only 296 dead trees and not 768 dead golden teak trees as reported by the villagers.
He said the villagers were tipped off about the deforestation in December and finished counting the dead trees earlier this month.
Mr Prasidhiporn said the department had already set up a joint state-local committee to verify the number of dead golden teak trees in the park.
Manoonsak Tantiwiwat, director of Forest Industry Organisation (FIO), also denied there was any plan to auction off the valuable teak logs from the park.
''The agency doesn't want to be accused of helping illegal loggers transform the seized logs to the legal ones,'' he said. The FIO is a state-enterprise in charge of commercial forest plantations and auctioning of confiscated timber.