Illegal wood puts temple on the brink

Illegal wood puts temple on the brink

Officials inspect logs and timber found stored at a Buddhist temple in Kanchanaburi without the proper import documents. The temple insists the wood was brought into the country legally but investigators suspect otherwise. (Photo by Piyarach Chongcharoen)

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is considering whether to revoke a temple’s licence to stay in a forest in Muang district of Kanchanaburi after it was found to be in possession of illegally processed wood.

Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, head of the special taskforce operation centre on forest protection, said he would table the case for the executives of the ministry to decide whether to allow Mettatham Bhodhiyan Temple to remain on the current plot of land.

The ministry’s “Buddhism Park” initiative allows temples to stay in the public forest on condition that the dwellers help to protect the natural environment. On Thursday, the temple was raided by police, military and the ministry’s special task force on forest protection. Processed wood, which the authority suspected had been illegally obtained, was confiscated during the raid.

Around 1,500 pieces of wood were found in the temple. The abbot told officials that it had been imported from neighbouring countries to refurbish and decorate the temple. However, in addition to the wood, banned electronic saws were also found at the scene.

According to forestry law, it is against the law to import wood from neighbouring countries. However, the law exempts wood which has already been carved into furniture. That exemption is created to prevent the smuggling of illegal timber. However, the exemption is often used as loophole illegal loggers who process the timber to some degree and claim that it is furniture parts.

Mr Chaiwat said the Office of the 3rd Conservative Area (Ban Pong), under the Department of National Parks, Wildllife and Plant Conservation in Ratchaburi, will consider whether to rethink the temple’s place in the Buddhism Park project. However, it might take a while as the office’s chief position is vacant for the time being, he said after returning to the temple to gather additional evidence that might provide clues as to the identities of the culprits.

Mr Chaiwat said that the case will be forwarded to the Department of Special Investigation under the Justice Ministry as the agency has more resources at its disposal for dealing with crimes of this sort.

The department has given the abbot 30 days to present documentation verifying where this wood was obtained from. Failure to do so in time will result in the abbot being charged with the possession of imported timber without a permit, running a wood processing plant with no permit and possession of an electronic saw under the 1941 Forest Act, said Mr Chaiwat.