By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
They are concerned about excessive tourism development, dangers to wildlife, and insufficient environmental protections imposed on the road improvement project for the park. Together, they say, the project will harm the fragile ecosystems and rich biodiversity of Kaeng Krachan forest.
This photo shows the poor condition of the Ban Krang-Panoen Thung road in Kaeng Krachan National Park. Environmentalists are questioning plans to imminently upgrade the road, fearing the impact of increased traffic and visitors.
Kaeng Krachan National Park is now taking bids for construction of the Ban Krang-Panoen Thung Road improvement project, which is budgeted at Bt87.62 million. The current 18.5-kilometre one-lane dirt road is old and badly damaged, and considered steep, narrow and dangerous for travellers using it to cut through the lush rainforest. Yet it offers the only access by vehicle to important scenic tourist attractions on Panoen Thung Mountain within the park.
The road-improvement project is being strongly criticised by nature lovers on social media. Korn Ratanasthien wrote on Facebook that the wellbeing of wildlife and forest ecosystems will suffer great damage from the road construction itself and from the subsequent impacts of higher traffic volumes and excessive tourist numbers.
“Kaeng Krachan forest is one of the richest in term of biodiversity in the whole country, as this forest is home to rare and endangered animals such as tigers, leopards and elephants, and many new species have been discovered there,” Korn said.
“Many rare birds, butterflies and wild animals can be easily seen along this road, so they will inevitably be greatly affected by the road reconstruction and changes to ecosystems after the road is completed.”
He agreed that parts of the road are in very poor condition and need repairing, but cautioned that by reconstructing the entire route, wild animals would be endangered by faster vehicles and higher traffic volume. The new road would also direct many more tourists to the ecologically fragile areas inside Kaeng Krachan rainforest.
“I admit tourism at Panoen Thung Mountain generates a large amount of income for the park, but a faster and more comfortable route to Panoen Thung’s ‘sea of mist’ will attract more tourists, most of whom won’t be environmentally aware, and [would] contribute to other problems in the wildlife and the forest ecosystem,” he said.
“Kaeng Krachan forest is not just [a place to view] scenic nature, it is home to precious natural resources and biodiversity, so we should encourage ecotourism rather than high-impact mass tourism.”
The national park’s chief, Mana Permpoon, insists reconstruction is necessary, claiming the road is now broken beyond repair and postponing the project would end up costing even more money.
Addressing the concerns raised by environmentalists, Mana said the damage to natural surroundings and wildlife would be minimal. Contrary to what many feared, the road would not be widened during the project, he said, and so there would not be deforestation along the route. Installing speed-control obstructions would cut the number of animals killed on the road, he said.
He said the threat to wildlife animals from vehicles is small compared to that from illegal poaching by communities in the forest.
“A concrete road is more durable against erosion and a better fit for the humid environment of a rainforest,” said Mana. “Moreover, the project does not violate regulations and the national park also has a duty according to the law to proceed with this project.”