Thailand's vanishing forest

Since 1961 Thailand has lost nearly 65% of it's forest. A very big change in just one generation. In many cases deforestation can be attributed to an increasing demand for wood as a resource for industry and development, Thailand presents a somewhat different situation in that deforestation can be tied to political, economic and societal factors. Much of Thailand's recent economic improvement can be attributed to increased agricultural production for export. The country was able to increase production by clearing much of their forests and converting them to cropland.

It wasn't until 1989 that a total ban on all commercial logging was put in place owing to a massive flood in 1988, and even now it is often difficult to enforce and much forest clearing still goes on to make way for palm oil and rubber plantations.

forest destroyed for palm plantation

History of Thai forest management

In 1897 the Royal Forest Department was established to maintain and control revenue from the teak forests in northern Thailand.

In 1899 all forests were declared government property and all logging without payment to the Royal Forest Department was prohibited...

In 1956 The Forest Industry Organization was established to take over government control of industrial uses of Thai forests.

In 1962 the Thai government began to establish national parks and other forest conservation areas, their management was still under the jurisdiction of the Royal Forest Department. In the sixties there was a large shift in the forest use in Thailand. Deforestation began to increase but not due to the commercial uses in the teak forests in the north but rather the increased export agriculture being done in the south.

In the late 1960's the Thai government began to grant logging concessions, which required re-planting but were poorly managed.

A military coup in 1976 led to political instability. The military began to clear forests to suppress rebel forces that had settled in the forests for protection.

The political instability left the government with little power to protect forests and illegal logging was pursued more heavily by villagers. During the height of illegal logging in Thailand it is estimated that somewhere between 50-75% of timber coming out of Thailand was obtained illegally.

In the 1980s the government took many steps to limit the speed at which Thailand's forests were disappearing. They set a target for 40% forest cover. To achieve this they initiated tree planting initiatives and leased some degraded forests to third parties to create logging plantations.

In 1988 a flood in southern Thailand finally set in motion a complete ban on all commercial logging that was put in place in 1989.
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