At least 15 protected areas have expanded to integrate adjacent biodiversity corridors, according to government sub-decrees issued in July and released sporadically over the course of the week.
“Yes, first, we have merged [biodiversity corridors] where places are not affected, and second we are reviewing other lands able to merge, so this is a first step, and we will continue our work,” Environment Minister Say Sam Al said.
More than 750,000 hectares across 13 provinces has been converted into protected area, according to sub-decrees released publicly as of Wednesday evening.
The government is largely reclassifying biodiversity corridors as protected areas, two provincial department of environment directors confirmed to CamboJA on Wednesday.
“The expansion of natural protected areas merges biodiversity corridors into protected areas,” Siem Reap’s provincial director of environment Sun Kong said. “Now there is no biodiversity corridor, it has become natural protected areas. This [expansion of protected areas] is intended to enhance the conservation management of the ecosystem.”
A 2017 sub-decree originally reclassified 1,427,490 hectares of land as biodiversity corridors, intended to link Cambodia’s existing 70 protected areas which represented more than 7,000,000 hectares or over 40% of Cambodia’s landmass.
Wildlife Sanctuaries Phnom Aural, Beng Per, Phnom Tnout-Phnom Pok, Peam Krasop, Lumphat, Phnom Nam Lea, Phnom Prich, Keo Seima and Kulen Promtep expanded their boundaries, according to subdecrees released this week.
National parks Preah Chey Varaman-Norodom (Phnom Kulen), Kep, O’Yadav, Virachey, Bokor and Veun Sai-Siem Pang also expanded their boundaries. The Central and Southern Cardamom Mountains National Park merged.
Three protected areas — Botum Sakor National Park, Sre Pok Wildlife Sanctuary and Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary — decreased by 34,387 hectares.
Satellite images and testimony from residents who spoke with CamboJA in some of the reclassified areas suggests that these biodiversity corridors already contained farmlands and communities, as well as existing economic and social land concessions.
Conservationists and environmental activists have warned that the large-scale expansion and changes in land zoning could trigger conflicts with local communities and disrupt ongoing land titling process for indigenous communities.
“The Environment Ministry has paid attention to carry out the law, especially classifying management zones of communities where people live,” Siem Reap’s Kong said. “They have been living and cultivating since their ancestors, we are not involved [in impacting] them, except if they encroach [further], it is illegal.”
Kampot provincial environment director Eng Polo told CamboJA that the merging biodiversity corridors had occurred following around six months of discussions. The corridors had been intended to facilitate the movement of wildlife.
“Generally, farmlands of villagers are not designated put into conservation corridors because wildlife corridors cannot cross farmlands of villagers,” Polo said.
Preah Vihear Provincial Director of Environment Ea Sokha declined to comment. Ratanakiri and Koh Kong provincial department of environment directors Phun Semrin and Hun Marady could not be reached.
Environment Ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra did not respond to requests for comment.
Expanding protected areas:
Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary has increased 253,750 to 258,172 hectares = 4,422 hectares
Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary has increased 242,500 to 265,883 hectares = 23,383 hectares
Phnom Tnout-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary has increased 42,097 to 51,730 hectares = 9,633 hectares
Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary has increased 333,750 to 362,384 hectares =
Preah Chey Varaman-Norodom National Park (Phnom Kulen) has increased 37,500 to 62,883 hectares = 25,383 hectares
Kep National Park has increased 1,152 to 1,230 hectares = 78 hectares
O’Yadav National Park has increased 101,348 to 105,019 hectares = 3,671 hectares
Virak Chey National Park has increased 332,500 to 405,766 hectares = 73,266 hectares
Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary has expanded from 250,000 to 356,087 hectares = 106,087 hectares
Phnom Nam Lea Wildlife Sanctuary has increased form 47,500 to 64,835 hectares = 17,335 hectares
Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary has increased from 222,500 to 262,642 hectares = 40,142 hectares
Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary has increased from 292,690 to 317,456 hectares = 24,766 hectares
Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary has increased from 402,500 to 428,971 hectares = 26,471 hectares
Bokor National Park has increased from 154,458 to 156,116 hectares = 1,658 hectares
Veun Sai-Siem Pang National Park has increased from 57,469 to 280,359 hectares = 222,890 hectares
Central Cardamom Mountain National Park (previously 401,313 hectares) combines with South Cardamom Mountain National Park (previously 410,392 hectares), along with reclassifying an additional 114,418 hectares from an adjacent biodiversity corridor as protected area = 114,418 hectares of new protected area.
Total increase of new protected areas = 750,871 hectares
Decreasing in Size:
Botum Sakor National Park reduced from 171,250 to 143,895 hectares = 27,355 hectares
Sre Pok Wildlife Sanctuary reduced from 372,971 to 372,707 hectares = 264 hectares
Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary reduced from 23,750 to 16,982 hectares = 6,768
Total decrease in protected area size = 34,387 hectares
Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri, Stung Treng, Kratie, Kampot, Preah Sihanouk, Pursat, Kampong Speu, Koh Kong, Preah Vihear, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom and Oddar Meanchey provinces.