Vientiane Times, 22nd May 2015
Development projects carried out in conservation forest areas in which the forest area has been converted or changed to another use must compensate for the forest loss, a new decree states. The government recently issued the Decree on Conservation Forest that identifies principles, measures and regulations on the establishment, allocation, management, protection, development and use of conservation forests.
The decree offers a policy which will allow for the conversion or change of use of a conservation forest or part of a conservation forest in necessary cases which will bring greater benefits for the country. However, converting the use of conservation forests needs approval from the authorities concerned. For example, converting national or provincial conservation forest or part of a forest for another purpose must be first approved by the Standing Committee of the National Assembly in response to the request made by the government. According to the decree, developers of hydropower, mining, road construction, electricity grid networks and other projects whose activities have converted conservation forest for other purposes are legally obliged to contribute funds for reforestation to compensate for the forest areas lost to their projects. The developers are required to contribute US$800 per hectare, according to the 17-page decree. Hydropower projects must also contribute additional funds of US$2 per hectare per year to finance activities for the management and protection of conservation forest in the water catchment areas. Tourism business operators whose ecotourism activities engage in making use of conservation forest or surrounding areas are also required to pay obligation fees coupled with the contribution of an additional one percent of their total revenue per year towards forest conservation activities. Filmmakers and other businesses making use of conservation forest for commercial interest must also contribute one percent of the total investment of their project.
Under the decree, areas of conservation forest can be expanded if the forest areas near existing conservation forests are surveyed and proven to meet certain criteria. Conservation forest in Laos is categorised into four levels – national conservation forest, provincial conservation forest, district conservation forest and village conservation forest. No party is allowed to encroach or undertake activities that harm the conservation forests illegally, especially in the extremely-critical conservation zones, which are the habitat and breeding zones for wildlife and contain a density of plant species and biodiversity. The decree demands the relevant authorities to install signs that identify conservation forest areas so that the areas are visible thus people will be aware about the zones they are not allowed to encroach upon. The relevant authorities are also required to carry out regular and on-request inspections, especially in areas where the conservation forests are potentially at risk of being encroache d including at the entry points to the forests. The decree stipulates that the concerned authorities should establish stations in potential areas to monitor encroachment and prevent forest fire, while drawing up a plan for forest recovery. Local people are permitted to make a living including collecting non-timber forest products in the conservation forests in line with the relevant regulations and allocation plan, but not in the extremely-critical conservation zones.