In the Beginning

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This blog is for the purposes of documentation, updating, describing and informing, about the status of Ben’s Forest Project.  Documentation, so that we can remember what we have done and when.  Updating  and informing you on what Ben has been up to (and what we are doing also I suppose).  And describing the whole concept so you can understand what Ben is up to.

The Purpose
To protect a forest.
To educate a community.  To help them value their natural resources.  To help them know what they can do so that there will still be forest, a useful, productive and beautiful forest for their children and grandchildren.
To preserve the wildlife.
To not be stuck in an office all day.

The Concept
A forest destination for the traveler who is willing to visit another day or two in order to venture beyond the Siem Reap temples.  A traveler who doesn’t mind a little bit of dirt and dust.  A little bit of heat.  And a little bit of distance from the busyness of the usual tourist destinations.
This destination would have some tree-houses, or near tree houses.
There would be some activities of various kinds for the more adventurous.
There would be trails for exploring.
This destination would have in it some ancient ruins.  So you can feel like a real explorer.
There would be birds for birdwatchers.
And, there would be a healthy growth in the presence of other wildlife.

Income from the enterprise would help to pay for the protection of the forest.  Rangers would be needed to patrol.
Income would also contribute to development activities in the community.
The enterprise would employ the local community so that they are profiting from the protection of the forest and not its destruction.

This destination is located in a zoned Community Forest.  The Core Zone of the CF would be fully protected and preserved.  The Sustainable Use Zone of the CF would be for the local village to manage and use in a sustainable manner.  They will create a usage plan that will allow the local resource needs to be met in a way that is sustainable in the long term.

The How
Step one.  Find the destination.  Done.  Phnom Tnout (Sugar Palm Mountain).  In Songkum Thmey District of Preah Vihear Province.  This mountain is in the vicinity of Ta Bos Village in Sdau Commune.  The forest is primarily dryland forest.  There is a mountain that has a spring coming out at the top.  There are some ancient structures (walls, roofs) on the east and west, north and south sides of the mountain and many ancient quarries where they dug up rock for their buildings.  There used to be a dragon head at the spring where the water but that was stolen a couple of years ago.  There are still odd carvings around the place – lion’s feet.  People’s feet.  It is also about 10 kilometers from the Preah Khan temple complex.

Step two.  Engage the local community.  Ongoing and always should be.  The community are supportive of the idea.  Mostly.  They recognise the importance of having the forest zoned as Community Forest.  If not, it will most likely be sold off to companies for economic land concessions.  The community lose all rights to it, to its access and use, and its present and future benefits.  So, yes, they want the Community Forest.  Do they want  to protect it intact?  This is a bit more difficult.  They won’t be able to hunt.  They won’t be able to cut trees down.  They won’t be able to slash and burn the forest for agriculture.  So, that is why there is the idea for two zones – the core and the sustainable use zone.  Most CFs that we are familiar with – the ones around our area, are around 1500 hectares.  Total.  The Forestry Administration has recommended that we request 6,000 hectares!  Huge.  Enabling the Core Zone to be 5,000 hectares.  Protected.  The community can use the 1,500 hectares after developing a usage plan.

Step three.  Get the Community Forest approved.  Hmmmm.  This one is in progress.  Ben spent most of last year doing the rounds and trying to tick all the boxes in the application process.  It is a good time to be applying for a CF.  The government has made a goal of three million hectares to be zoned as CF before July 2013 (which also happens to be the election – no relation I’m sure).  And also they have suspended the granting of Economic Land Concessions for a while.  So, it is a good time to be working on this.  It has been challenging for Ben to work out what everyone wants.  Trying to get signatures in the right place.  Apparently there is a very right and a very wrong way to write letters.  Right now, the application is completed and is with the RECROFT (sp???) who will be submitting the application with all the other CFs that are being requested for Preah Vihear.  Very soon we hope.

Step four.  Make a use contract with the community for the Core Zone.  Probably for the life of the CF contract of 15 years.

Step five.  Construction.  Build the roads, bridges, accommodations, activities, trails, swimming pools, move our house!  That is enough to make me tired.

Step six.  Find and train a team from the local community.  Rangers. Housekeepers.  Guides.  An activity team. A kitchen team.  Maintenance and grounds staff.

Step seven.  Marketing.

Step seven.  Open.

Step eight.  Operate.
Simple.  Maybe not.  These steps are not necessary chronological nor in order.  Some will be done consecutively.  But this is generally what we want to do.  In the next 12 months.  Scary!

Marking the boundary
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