Threats facing the Eastern Plains Landscape are serious and many (see Table 4 for summary). Deforestation is arguably the biggest threat to the forests, biodiversity, and people through the loss of forest cover, habitats, ecosystem services, and livelihoods. Thanks to diverse and long-term conservation activities by government departments and non-government organizations, deforestation is slow but still increasing. Clearance to date has been undertaken mostly by smallholders (farming areas of a few hectares) and medium scale farmers (areas of a few tens of hectares). Some forest is cleared for traditional subsistence crops (rice, maize, etc.), but most is cleared for cash crops such as cashew, soya, bean, and cassava, or simply for land speculation. Illegal logging of luxury-grade timber species is pervasive in dense forest. The main target species are Afzelia xylocarpa and Dalbergia bariensis, both classified as Endangered by IUCN Red List. It is difficult to quantify, but patrol detections hint at the scale of the problem. During twenty-four months in 2008–2010, 3,861 logs, and cut trees were seen or confiscated during patrols, 87 per cent of them representing the two above species36.
Fires lit by people are very widespread in the deciduous forests. It is an important part of the ecology in this habitat and should not be assumed to necessarily represent a threat, but it is possible the fire frequency is now higher than optimal levels and further research on this topic is needed. Water quality is also presumed to be at risk due to increasing levels of pesticides from industrial rubber and palm oil plantation schemes upstream, particularly large-scale economic land concessions.
The most significant threat to key wildlife species is over-hunting (Evans et al., 2013). This has already probably long ago eliminated Tiger (Panthera tigris), Kouprey (Bos sauvelii), Wild Water Buffalo (Bubalus arnee), and both the Javan (Rhinoceros sondaicus), and Sumatran (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) rhinoceros, which would have been present in the landscape. More recently, it has dramatically reduced populations of larger ungulates, pangolins, turtles and other taxa. Hunting involves guns, snares, traps, dogs, poison baits, and many other methods37. Most hunting with serious conservation impacts is for trade and supplies markets locally and internationally. Other than direct pressures, vultures are assumed threatened by a scarcity of carrion from both wild and domestic animals, as is the case elsewhere in Cambodia38. Incidental disturbance at water sources may also be a threat for some shy species such as large carnivores, ungulates, and large water birds.
The most visible indirect threat drivers to biodiversity are improving road access, increasing human population, and large-scale development projects. The Eastern Plains Landscape is part of a frontier landscape, sparsely populated but rapidly being colonized and included in large-scale economic development programs such as the Lao-Vietnam-Cambodia Triangle Development Strategy and various components of the ADB-supported Greater Mekong Sub-region cooperation program39. For example from 2003 to 2008, the population of the Seima Protected Forest and the surrounding areas grew by 32 per cent, or 5.8 per cent per year40. During a similar period two major roads were upgraded: from Snoul via Sre Roneam to Kratie (all tarmac by 2005), and from Snoul to Sen Monorom (tarmac completed in 2010).
A particular ongoing threat is that of economic land concessions inside protected areas, such as those described for Lomphat Wildlifge Sanctuary. Land concessions have been granted in Cambodia since the 1990s. The 2001 Land Law formalized the legal framework for granting concessions for economic purposes. An economic land concession, or ELC, is a long-term lease that allows the beneficiary to clear land in order to develop industrial agriculture. National and international investors are exerting tremendous pressure on the government to grant economic land concessions (ELC), increasingly inside protected areas, which lack management plans, enforcement capacity, and economic arguments for their protection. The current rate of forest conversion41is so great that there is a real risk that there will no longer be sufficient access to, or sufficient quantities of, natural resources to support dependent communities. The integrity and continued existence of the landscape and the biodiversity it supports will be undermined, and the environment will be so modified that ecosystem services such as watersheds, disaster reduction, climate change resilience, will be destroyed and their benefits to broader society will be lost.
Notwithstanding, the Cambodian government is taking action to stop additional threats from economic land concessions. In May 2012 the government adopted Order 01BB on Measures for Strengthening and Increasing the Effectiveness of the Management of Economic Land Concessions. In 2014 an inter-ministerial proclamation, signed by the Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Environment aims to amend the management of ELCs to better protect local community interests. Within it, companies must implement a ‘tiger skin formula’ to ensure that ELCs do not affect ‘the farming lands of villagers, community forest, and protected forest’.
Table . Threats and severity of impact in Eastern Plains Landscape42
awarded within protected areas and surrounding landscapes
clears wildlife habitats and Eastern Plains Landscape natural habitat with exotic plants
threaten to seriously disrupt wildlife corridors
brings with them: chemical and sediment pollution, increased demand for wildlife and timber, increased settlement, increased clearing of land, increased illegal logging beyond ELC boundaries, spread of diseases from introduced domestic animals
Root causes and barrier analysis
Eight barriers that need to be overcome to reach project goals are presented in Table 5, below, and in the project matrix of incremental costs (Appendix 3: Incremental cost analysis - matrix of project incremental costs), and will be addressed by CAMPAS project. Two of these barriers, on international trade (#7) and population growth (#8) are also presented, although these are rooted on elements beyond the scope of the project, and must therefore be dealt separately and through additional international and national efforts.
Table . Barriers in need of overcoming through CAMPAS
Shortage of governance capacity at national level
Incomplete or unimplemented laws; cross-border trade pressures from Vietnam; and the low perceived value of nature as compared to economic development.
Week coordination and collaboration across national agencies and unified vision and approach for the conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem services
Addressed mainly through CAMPAS outputs 1.1, 1.2, 1.3
Limited management capacity at institutional level
Limited conservation management capacity at the central, provincial, and local levels to support biodiversity and forested landscape connectivity needs.
Limited capacities on spatial or regional planning, resource valuation, and optimizing the cost-benefit of economic development with resource conservation at landscape level.
Strong economic development pressures impacting biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services beyond the capacity of individual government agencies and in need of a national synergistic approach
Addressed mainly through CAMPAS outputs 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 2.1
Weak technical capacity at operational level
Weak technical capacities to carry out needed biodiversity and conservation management needs, inclusive of activities that support protected area functions.
Addressed mainly through CAMPAS outputs 2.2 and 2.3
Strong incentives for intensive land-use options, with conflicting land allocations
Weak national convictions on biodiversity conservation, allowing the licensing of large agri-business concessions and mining exploration inside protected areas like Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary.
National and provincial government policies, programs, and institutional mechanisms not presently conductive of ‘regional planning and resource optimization’ processes to support landscape-level needs
Addressed mainly through CAMPAS output 2.1
Forested landscape connectivity in support of biodiversity and ecosystem functions
Lack of forest connectivity between protected areas in large biodiversity landscapes diminishing the long-term effectiveness of conservation measures
Poor prospects for continuous forest cover between protected areas in the demonstration area, thus reducing the effectiveness of its comprised protected areas
Addressed mainly through CAMPAS outputs 1.2, 2.3, and particularly 2.4
Natural resources-based economy of local communities
Increasing pressure on natural resources from local residents and migrants living in and around protected areas, and consequent loss of forest cover and encroachment on previously uninhabited forests.
Addressed mainly through CAMPAS output 2.4
Limited financial resources to deliver basic protected area management activities
Lack of financial resources to properly staff and carry out protected area conservation management activities, such as patrolling and law enforcement.
Addressed mainly through CAMPAS output 2.3
Additional barriers (beyond scope of CAMPAS project)
Rapidly growing national and regional economies
International commodity prices and economic growth driving a demand for timber, wild animals, farm products as the availability of capital to invest in exploitation increases.
Increasing national population density, with a rising number of landless and land-poor people migrating from the more crowded provinces.