By Chularat Saengpassa
UNDER the new National Parks Act, local communities may stay in a forest reserve and use its renewable resources.
Article 65 of this law opens a clear channel for mutual co-existence for forest dwellers and nature. However, many farmers are concerned about the heavy penalties this law wields.
For instance, the Northern Peasant Federation is worried that taking resources from the forest may result in a 10-year jail term plus a maximum fine of Bt2 million.
Songtam Suksawang, who heads the National Parks Office, recently admitted that though this new law comes with harsher punishments, it also allows forest dwellers to exist in harmony with nature.
“This law addresses problems faced by those who have lived in forestland all their lives,” said Songtam, whose office is part of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).
Every now and then, there are media reports about people facing forest-encroachment charges, when in reality they have simply been leading their lives where their families have been living for generations.
Further checks also often find that these people or their parents have lived in the area before it was made part of national parks.
According to Article 65 of the new law, DNP can introduce a project for sustainable conservation and use of natural resources at a national park, where appropriate, with prior Cabinet approval.
“We will allow locals to continue their traditional way of life, provided it does not damage the environment. They can collect seasonal products from forests,” Songtam said.
He was speaking after the National Parks Act of BE 2562 was promulgated in the Royal Gazette on May 29, and goes into effect 180 days later.
The law also gives DNP 240 days to survey renewable resources at national parks.
If the DNP finds that a park has renewable resources that can be used by humans without having an adverse impact on forest conditions, wildlife, biological diversity and the ecological system, it can prepare a project allowing locals to use forest resources.
“Such projects will require prior approval from the minister of natural resources and environment and the Cabinet before implementation,” Songtam explained, adding that he is optimistic the new law will benefit local communities.
He also said that locals should at least be allowed to collect mushrooms and bamboo shoots from the forests.
However, he said, only communities that have traditionally lived in forested land will be allowed to participate in such projects, adding that people driving into the forest on pickups will not be eligible.
“We will allow forest resources to be used for living, not for commercial purposes,” he said.
He also emphasised that collecting renewable resources from national parks can only be done legally through government-approved projects.
“Those venturing out without permission will still face legal action,” he said.
According to the National Parks Act, illegally collecting forest products valued below Bt2,000 is |punishable by a fine of up to Bt5,000.
If resources collected from forest comprise more than 20 trees or timber of over four cubic metres, offenders are liable to four to 20 years in jail and a fine of between Bt400,000 and Bt2 million.
Other points of interest in the new law are: national parks can allocate no more than 10 per cent of its income to local administrative bodies for park conservation and rehabilitation; DNP will provide assistance to officials and volunteers injured or killed on duty; and informants will be rewarded for tip-offs leading to the arrest and conviction of offenders.