Second Open Letter to Prey Lang Stakeholders
University of Copenhagen
24 June 2020
University of Maryland has released the latest Global Forest Change1 dataset showing global
forest loss in 2019. The dataset shows forest loss across countries and protected areas such as the
Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary.
Here, University of Copenhagen complemented the Global Forest Change data with additional
data from the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission.
We would like to draw your attention to the rapid forest loss in Cambodia and the Prey Lang
Wildlife Sanctuary in particular. We believe it is in the interest of the Ministry of Environment,
their partners USAID and Tetra Tech, and the Cambodian public to have access to these data.
Cambodia’s forest loss is the 10th highest in the world
According to the University of Maryland data set, Cambodia had a remarkable total forest loss,
which is at par with many much larger countries.
- Cambodia’s forest loss is the 10th highest in the world at 63,000 hectares of forest in 2019.
- Cambodia has lost 26% of its tree cover since 2000 equivalent to 2.3 million hectares.
Highest deforestation in Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary since 2016
Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary lost 7510 hectares in 2019, which is a 73% increase from 2018.
This is the highest rate of deforestation since 2016, when the sanctuary was declared.
- Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary lost more than one football pitch (0.714 ha) EVERY HOUR in
the entire year of 2019 (calculation at end of this letter).
- Prey Lang Willife Sanctuary has lost 11% of its forest cover since 2001, when the World
Resources Institute (WRI) and Global Forest Watch (GFW) started the measurements.
- The forest loss has led to an emission of 3.52 MegaTonnes (Mt) of CO2, which is equivalent
of 760,473 cars driven for one year (calculation at end of this letter).
- Complementary data from the Forest Canopy Disturbance Monitoring (FCDM-radar) tool,
developed by the JRC, showed an additional forest loss of 2,565 hectare2 within the Prey
Lang Wildlife Sanctuary. This additional area has mostly been lost through small-scale
disturbance events (single tree removals), that are not captured by the Global Forest
Change dataset (see supplementary figures at the end of the document).
The increase in forest loss in Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary is simultaneous with the Ministry of
Environment ban on local forest patrols and their documentation of forest crime. Today, civil
society including the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) can only watch the rampant illegal
logging in Prey Lang. Every night, convoys of trucks transport timber out of the forest.
1 Hansen, M. C., P. V. Potapov, R. Moore, M. Hancher, S. A. Turubanova, A. Tyukavina, D. Thau, S. V.
Stehman, S. J. Goetz, T. R. Loveland, A. Kommareddy, A. Egorov, L. Chini, C. O. Justice, and J. R. G.
Townshend. 2013. “High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change.” Science 342 (15
November): 850–53. Data available on-line from: http://earthenginepartners.appspot.com/science-2013-
global-forest. 2 Disclaimer: The 2,565-hectare area affected by disturbances, detected with the FCDM-radar tool was
derived directly from the FCDM disturbance map and thus has not been area-corrected.
1 Second Open Letter to Prey Lang Stakeholders
University of Copenhagen
Civil society has proven the only effective measure to protect the forest.
PLCN has been at the forefront of the protection of Prey Lang forest since its formation in 2001.
They have bravely defended Prey Lang while many of Cambodia’s forests were plundered, as
officials either profited from or ignored rampant deforestation. However, despite the designation
as a protected area in 2016, Prey Lang remains under serious threat due to rampant illegal logging.
Dwindling civil space and fear of retributions
To understand the severity of deforestation in Cambodia, one has to recognise the dwindling political space for Civil Society Organisations within the forestry sector. This includes delegitimization and criminalization of independent forestry groups such as PLCN and the relegation
of local and indigenous forest groups to small and isolated Community Protected Areas at the
margin of Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary.
USAID and American company Tetra Tech support to the Ministry of Environment
The Ministry of Environment has barred local forest patrols (PLCN) from entering Prey Lang
Wildlife Sanctuary to stop illegal logging and threatened to arrest them if they continue to
document forest crime. The same ministry receives multi-million dollar support from USAID
through the implementing American company Tetra Tech and the ‘Greening Prey Lang’ project.
The support lends recognition to the monopolization of “forest protection” under the Ministry of
The accelerating forest loss comes as the Ministry of Environment has strengthened their
cooperation with the USAID-funded and Tetra Tech implemented Greening Prey Lang project. A
recent article in the Phnom Penh Post describes the increased cooperation between the Ministry
of Environment and Tetra Tech/Greening Prey Lang and the concomitant criminalization of the
Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN).
Ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra said the PLCN report does not represent the work of
protecting Prey Lang. “Any reports from PLCN, which is not under the law, are [their] own
responsibility and the information is for its group which does not represent management and
conservation of natural resources in Prey Lang”.
“The ministry is working in collaboration with its partner, USAID’s Greening Prey Lang, and 19
protected areas in the Prey Lang community forest continue collaborative agreements to patrol,
protect and conserve natural resources to prevent offences in Prey Lang,” Pheaktra said.
The Spokesperson of the Ministry of Environment has previously threatened to have members of
the PLCN arrested for using satellite data to observe deforestation.
To achieve forest protection, we encourage USAID and Tetra Tech to stop the silent approval of
the intimidation and de-legitimization of the PLCN and instead support monitoring of forest crimes
by independent forest networks. Experience shows that local forest patrols is the only effective
protection Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary has ever had. Furthermore, the exclusion of local and
indigenous people from the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary violates national legislation as well as the
UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights (UNDRIP), to which Cambodia is a signatory.
The forest loss data from University of Maryland came just a month after the highest number of
GLAD deforestation alerts ever recorded for Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary. There were more than
22.000 GLAD deforestation alerts for Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary in the week of 20th of April
2020, which dwarfs the previous high of 11.000 GLAD deforestation alerts in a single week in
February 2020. The GLAD deforestation alerts are powered by the GLAD lab at the University of
Maryland and use Landsat images to detect recent forest disturbance weekly at 30-meter
We created an interactive dashboard for Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary on the Global Forest Watch
platform. The dashboard allows for visualization of the deforestation according to information
needs. The dashboard is accessible here: https://bit.ly/3fpCwzD