Temples lead fight to save last Siamese rosewood reserve

Temples lead fight to save last Siamese rosewood reserve
Lee Noikaew, headman of Nongphue village, examines the remains of the first Siamese Rosewood tree planted at the local temple.

As a result, monks and villagers in Ubon Ratchathani's Khemmarat district have teamed up to protect their 100-year-old Siamese rosewood forest.

Over 300 Siamese rosewood trees are located in Sa Bua temple, Ban Nongphue, in Ubon Ratchathani's Khemmarat district. These Siamese rosewood trees have grown naturally for 100 years. Most are more than six metres high and their diameters are huge. It would take two men stretching their arms to cover the width of one Siamese rosewood tree in this forest.

Abbot Banya Wattatako said he has instructed the monks to close the temple doors during the night to prevent illegal logging gangs from entering the temple and cutting the Siamese rosewoods.

"The Siamese rosewood tree is very important for people in the Northeast, as they believe that the spiritual power in these trees can support their lives, he said.

Lee Noikaew, a headman of Nongphue village, said he instructed his village to save these precious trees as they are recognised as the last big Siamese rosewood forest in the northeastern region.

"We have been offered Bt500,000 (S$19600) by merchants to buy a single Siamese rosewood tree, but we did not sell it because these trees should belong to the temple and village," he said.

The Nongphue temple is not the only one threatened by the illegal logging gangs. The Nong Kan temple in Yasothon's Kham Khuan Kaeo district was also approached by gangs and offered Bt5 million for a Siamese rosewood in the temple, according to Royal Forest Department director-general Boonchob Suthamanuswong.

In many temples in the Northeast, he said the department also found that illegal logging gangs had offered bribes to temple committees to influence them to approve cutting of the trees.

Siamese rosewood trees in the Northeast are the most desired by illegal logging gangs as their number is declining in the natural forest. A single rosewood tree is valued at Bt700,000 to Bt800,000. The price of rosewood would double if it could be exported to China.

Most illegally cut rosewood trees are transferred to China via Laos and Vietnam on different vehicles, such as cars and vans, to avoid the police.

During 2008-2014, over 27,000 pieces of Siamese rosewood have been confiscated by police and forest officials in Ubon Rathchatani and some 395 offenders arrested.

At present, more than 363,000 pieces of Siamese rosewood - worth Bt40 billion - have been confiscated nationwide. Eleven forest officials and police have been killed during these operations to arrest illegal logging gangs.

To reduce the demand for Siamese rosewood, caretaker Natural Resources and Environment Minister Vichet Kasemthongsri said he had asked the Royal Forest Department and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) to inform China that exporting the Siamese rosewood tree is illegal.

"To transfer the Siamese rosewood trees to China [is costing] the lives of many officials out to arrest the illegal logging gangs. We must stop this," he said.

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