Vientiane Times, 16 July 2014
Members of the National Assembly (NA) have asked the government to work harder to manage, protect and conserve Lao forests in an effort to increase forest coverage to 65 percent by 2015 and 70 percent by 2020 as planned. The members made the comments this week during the ongoing ordinary session of the NA following a presentation by the government on its initiative to manage, protect and conserve forests, which were categorised into three types. These three categories are protected forest, conservation forest and production forest in order to ease its management effort.
According to Lao News Agency, Chairwoman of the parliament’s committee on Economic, Planning and Finance Dr Souvanpheng Bouphanouvong, who is also representing the NA’s standing committee, called for the government to attach greater attention to ensure effective management of the three-categorised forests.
The NA also asked the government to carry out a proper survey on the community forests associated with agricultural production of the local people and work out clear regulations to manage the community forests in a move to ensure effective forest management. In addition, Dr Souvanpheng said the government must figure out a mechanism which would enable more private sectors participating in the protection of the forests.
Members of the parliament also demanded that the government take action to inspect sawmills located near a national protected area which was deemed to be illegal. They also called for the government to strictly regulate sawmills in general. The NA suggested harsher punishment for those found guilty of harming forestry, including state officials, if they are found to be ignoring their duty concerning forest protection.
Presenting the initiative to the parliament for consideration and approval, Minister of National Resources and Environment Mr Nourin Sinbandith said his ministry would work closely with the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry to carry out activities for forest management, protection and conservation. Officials will continue to promote tree planting and earmarking forest areas with signs.
He said officials would carry out surveys to collect information in order to draw up a plan for forest management in each category such as allocating community forest areas to enable local people to participate in forest management and use the areas in a sustainable manner.
Laos used to be one of countries that had one of the largest forest coverage but it has slowly declined, according to statistics from the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment. In the 1960s, the forest cover in Laos reached 71.6 percent (17 million hectares) of the entire land area. However it has declined to 47 percent (11.1 million hectares) in 1992 and down further to 41.5 percent (9.7 million hectares) in 2002.
The forest area continued to decline to 40.34 percent (9.55 million hectares) in 2010. The latest survey showed that there are 49 protected forest areas with a combined area of 7.4 million hectares. Various conservation forests including 24 National Conservation Forests cover a total area of 4.7 million hectares, while 51 production forest areas have a combined area of about 3.1 million hectares.
Protected forests are forestry lands which are located in the areas of water resources, watershed areas, wetland forest and river bank’s forests, as well as road side forests, municipal areas or on the outskirts of the city and sacred forests of villages. These have been determined for the purpose of protection of watershed areas and to reduce soil erosion and natural disasters and for national and public security. Conservation forests are forests conserved for protecting nature, plant species, animals and ecology. Production forests comprise both natural forests and industrial tree plantation areas allocated for timber trading purposes.