Govt to Ban Timber Harvest in Pegu Yoma Mountain Range
By Kyaw Hsu Mon 5 July 2016
RANGOON — In the Pegu Range, home to some of Burma’s major forests, the harvest of timber will undergo a 10-year hiatus starting in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, according to Aye Cho Thaung, deputy general manager of the country’s Forestry Department.
The Pegu Range, also known as Pegu Yoma, is a series of low mountains crossing Rangoon and Pegu divisions; the hills have experienced marked deforestation particularly due to the harvest of valuable teak wood which grows in the range.
“It’s like Pegu Yoma is now bald-headed,” said Aye Cho Thaung on Tuesday, describing the bare mountain peaks. “That’s why we will stop companies’ timber production starting from next year until 2027.”
The forestry department, which falls under the Ministry of National Resources and Environmental Conservation, will take control of all restricted forest reserves in the Pegu Range and will also ban logging by villagers in the surrounding areas.
The protected area stretches from Rangoon’s Hlegu Township to Yedashe Township in Pegu Division.
“Recently, the government [ordered a] stop to timber production in all ranges starting from this year, but we will be allowing other areas to resume production next year,” Aye Cho Thaung said, adding that the regulations around Pegu Yoma’s timber production were slightly different, since they involve a halt beginning in the next fiscal year.
He explained that many loggers have long been harvesting teak illegally, contributing to the destruction of forests and the natural habitats of wildlife; this, Aye Cho Thaung said, was the primary reason for taking further measures to protect the Pegu Range.
Under Burma’s long history of military rule, many timber producers exceeded the legal limit of timber exports—particularly in the 1990s—with some military officials implicated in the trade alongside businessmen.
Well-known tycoon Tay Za’s own Htoo Group of Companies was among the major players in timber production until 2011, when the country shifted to a quasi-civilian government. Though the Pegu Range is capable of producing 50,000 to 100,000 tons of timber per year, Aye Cho Thaung said companies have, since 2011, been limited to harvesting just 5,000 tons annually.
He added that the Htoo Group of Companies has since left the logging industry.
“Myanmar Teak Wood Company, Asia Green and National Timber Corporation are major producers there now,” he said of the companies active in the Pegu Range.
Over the next 10 years, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation will be replanting trees, protect existing forests, and preventing illegal logging by villagers who burn the wood as fuel. Many villages surrounding the Pegu Range are also required to undergo educational initiatives to prevent deforestation caused by logging.
“If government can solve the problem of fuel for villagers, they won’t [cut trees] anymore,” Aye Cho Thaung speculated.
Throughout Burma, from the beginning of April until late June, 12,844 tons of illegal timber were seized, according to the environmental ministry’s figures. The most commonly confiscated logs included teak, followed by other hardwoods, with the biggest hauls taking place in Sagaing Division, at nearly 3,450 tons, followed by over 2,178 tons in Karenni State and 1,406 tons in Pegu Division.
Devi Thant Cin, an environmentalist with the Myanmar Green Network, said she welcomed the government’s steps to halt timber production in the Pegu Range, as trees in the region urgently require re-planting.
“Timber producers will not be happy about it, but for the country it is good. The Pegu Range is suffering a lot of deforestation. It is good to start the re-planting plan now,” she said.
“But the government needs to do serious law enforcement with this plan as well,” Devi Thant Cin added.
With the formation of Burma’s new civilian-led government in April, Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Ohn Win promised that a nationwide ban on logging would be put into place by March 2017, the end of the current fiscal year.