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Ecosystem Profile: Indochina

Legislation and Protected Area Networks
Most countries have recently updated, or are in the process of updating, their policies and legislation on forests and the environment. There exists significant variation among countries with regard to the comprehensiveness of environmental legislation and the effectiveness of its enforcement. Moreover, inter-ministerial policy delineation is often ambiguous, especially in relation to the management and exploitation of wetlands (within and outside protected areas).

Although gaps remain in national protected area systems with regard to coverage of species, habitats, and ecosystems (e.g. Wege et al. 1999, Robichaud et al. 2001), over the past decade, legislation has been passed in each country to increase the area of land with formal protected area status. The Lower Mekong countries (Cambodia, Lao P.D.R., Thailand and Vietnam), collectively, now have more than 13 percent of their area in national systems of protected areas (ICEM 2003). However, with protected areas as their biodiversity conservation mainstays, each government has a long way to go before being able to claim that these networks are doing their job fully. This includes making further amendments to the appropriate laws and other legal provisions, and better utilization and enforcement of those already in place.

Consequently, the region boasts precious few examples of protected areas that function effectively. Although significant variation exists among countries in the region with regard to effective enforcement of protected area management regulations, the significant variation within the protected area network of each country suggests that there are factors determining effectiveness of enforcement in addition to the commitment of national governments and the appropriateness of national legislation. Other factors determining the effectiveness of enforcement of management regulations include the commitment and capacity of protected area managers, the commitment and will of local authorities, and the prevailing socioeconomic conditions. Civil society can play an important role in strengthening the enforcement of management regulations through site-based interventions, although, at the same time, there is a pressing need to promote greater commitment toward effective enforcement of management regulations among national governments and local authorities. The following section summarizes biodiversity conservation legislation and protected area networks in each country.

A 1993 Royal Decree designated 23 protected areas covering 3,273,200 hectares, which is equivalent to more than 18 percent of the country's total area. These areas comprise seven national parks, 10 wildlife sanctuaries, three protected landscapes and three multiple-use areas. MoE is responsible for their management. Since 1993, the prime minister has also designated three forest conservation areas for biodiversity conservation purposes. MAFF manages these three areas. The majority of protected areas are large (many exceed 1,000 km2), reflecting the extensive tracts of natural habitat that remain in the country. However, large protected areas with small resource bases present multiple management challenges, and protected area management regulations are rarely enforced effectively.

The coverage of terrestrial forest ecosystems within the Cambodian protected area network is relatively good. However, a recent review of the coverage of IBAs within the protected area network revealed that the Mekong River channel, offshore islands, inundated grasslands of the Mekong and Tonle Sap, and swamp forest of the Mekong and Tonle Sap are significantly under-represented within protected areas providing the strictest legal protection (Seng Kim Hout et al. 2003). When multiple-use areas, protected landscapes, Ramsar sites and biosphere reserve transition areas are included, however, only the former two ecosystems are significantly under-represented (Seng Kim Hout et al. 2003).

MAFF is responsible for the implementation of the Law on Forest Management, which was revised and passed in August 2002. It includes a chapter on wildlife conservation, which, for the first time, provides a legal framework for national wildlife conservation. A draft Wildlife Protection Law has also been prepared by MAFF but not yet enacted (Seng Kim Hout et al. 2003). In addition, a draft Protected Areas Law has been prepared by MoE and forwarded to the Council of Ministers for consideration.

Within the part of southern China in Indochina, terrestrial protected areas mapped by MacKinnon et al. (1996) totaled 38 in Yunnan, 26 in Guangxi, 15 in Guangdong, 22 in Hong Kong and approximately 50 on Hainan Island. Most were relatively small (under 500 km2), reflecting the highly fragmented nature of remaining natural habitats. In addition, they represented only approximately 16 percent of the remaining forest cover, which was estimated at approximately 17 percent in 1992 (MacKinnon et al. 1996). The protected area system has since been expanded significantly but figures are currently unavailable for the area within Indochina. Nature reserves may be recognized at township, county, provincial, or national levels on the basis of their scientific importance, with higher level generally conferring increases in recognition and budget. Many nature reserves were formerly forest farms. Although management effectiveness varies widely among protected areas in Mainland China, Hong Kong's country parks, mostly established in the early 1970s, have been relatively successful at maintaining populations of plants and animals and enabling forest regeneration, as a combination of affluent local human populations and effective enforcement of wildlife protection regulations has kept incompatible activities under control.

Over the past 10 years, China has promulgated a series of environmental laws and regulations. The main national laws relevant to biodiversity and habitats in southern China are the Regulations on Reproduction and Conservation of Aquatic Resources (1979); the Marine Environment Protection Law (1982); the Forest Law (1984, revised 1998); the Fishery Law (1986); the Law on Protection of Wild Animals (1988); the Environment Protection Law (1979, revised 1989); the Regulations on Conservation of Terrestrial Wild Animals (1992); the Regulation on Forest and Wild Animal Nature Reserves Management (1994-5); and the Regulation on Wild Plant Conservation (1996). Local governments have also issued regulations and directives regarding biodiversity conservation. In addition, Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions have separate biodiversity conservation legislation.

Lao P.D.R.
Prime Ministerial Decree 164 established the national protected area system in 1993, when 18 protected areas were decreed (Berkmuller et al. 1995). Two more were added in 1995-1996, bringing to 20 the number of national protected areas. These protected areas cover 3.3 million hectares or 14 percent of the nation's land area (Southammakoth and Craig 2001). Provincial and district protected areas and conservation forests cover an additional 8.2 percent of the nation's land area. The majority of protected areas are large (greater than 1,000 km2), and most suffer from a chronic shortage of personnel and resources. In addition, most protected areas have significant human populations living and using resources within their boundaries. Consequently, most are consistent with IUCN Category VI Protected Areas: Managed Resource Protected Areas (Robichaud et al. 2001). A recent review of the protected area system identified a number of gaps in the coverage of the network, including the under-representation of the Mekong River channel within the network (Robichaud et al. 2001).

Based on the Forestry Law of 1996 and Prime Ministerial Decree No. 198/PM of 1999, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry issued Regulation No. 0524/AF in 2001 (Ounekham and Inthapatha 2003).

Together, these regulations form the legal basis for protected area management and conservation of wildlife. However, they are not yet widely known among government staff and local communities throughout the country, and are difficult for the relevant authorities to enforce, given the authorities' limited human and financial resources (Ounekham and Inthapatha 2003).

Despite a long history of formal conservation, dating back to the establishment of the Royal Forest Department (now the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department) in 1896, it was not until the 1960s that the first protected areas legislation was enacted in Thailand, with the Wild Animal Preservation and Protection Act in 1960, the National Park Act in 1961, and the National Forest Reserves Act in 1964 (Bugna and Rambaldi 2001). The National Forest Policy in 1985 provided the basis for an expanded protected area system, and targetted the maintenance of 40 percent of the nation's land area as forest. Of the other laws relating to biodiversity conservation enacted since then, the Conservation of National Environmental Quality Act in 1992, a revision of the Wildlife Protection and Reservation Act in 1992 and the Plant Variety Protection Act in 1999 are of greatest significance (Bugna and Rambaldi 2001).

There are numerous categories of protected area in Thailand, ranging from wildlife sanctuary to natural monument (Royal Government of Thailand 2002). The most important categories, from a biodiversity conservation perspective, are national park, wildlife sanctuary and managed resource wetlands. Wildlife sanctuaries are managed mainly for wilderness protection and science; national parks and marine national parks are managed for ecosystem protection and tourism; and managed resource wetlands are nationally important wetlands managed mainly for biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of natural ecosystems (Royal Government of Thailand 2002). Compared with the generally better-funded national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, managed resource wetlands are often smaller, and restrictions on exploitation are only enforced for particular species. Many of the most effectively managed protected areas in the region are in Thailand, although even these face a number of major threats, including resident human populations, illegal exploitation of forest products, and dams and other large development projects (Srikosamatara and Brockelman 2002).

Thailand has a significantly greater number of national protected areas than any other country in Indochina. The profusion of protected areas in Thailand is partly explained by the greater degree of fragmentation of natural habitats compared with certain other countries in the region, but also by the tendency for large, contiguous blocks of natural habitat to be subdivided into smaller management units. As of July 2002, the Thai protected area network comprised 81 terrestrial national parks, 21 marine national parks, 55 wildlife sanctuaries and 55 managed resource wetlands, covering approximately 9 percent, 1 percent, 7 percent and 1 percent of the country respectively. In addition, there is also a series of 38 forest reserves scheduled to be gazetted as terrestrial national parks, covering approximately 19,000 km2 (equivalent to 3.7 percent of the total land area) (Carew-Reid 2002).

A comprehensive review of the national protected area network, conducted in 1987, concluded that most major terrestrial ecosystems in Thailand were well represented within the system (Kasetsart University 1987). The major exceptions were lowland evergreen forest, swamps and marshes and intertidal mudflats and mangroves. A second review, conducted in 1993, concluded that most terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the country were well represented within protected areas, apart from lowland wet evergreen forest in the peninsula, lowland moist evergreen forest in the south-east, peatswamp forest, intertidal mudflats and mangrove (Royal Forest Department 1993). While some of these gaps have been addressed by subsequent expansions of the national protected area system, coastal ecosystems in particular remain significantly under-represented.

Establishment of Vietnam's protected area network began in 1962, with the designation of the country's first protected area at Cuc Phuong. Protected areas in Vietnam comprise special-use forests, the only land-use category with the specific objective of biodiversity conservation. In 1997, MARD initiated a process to expand the special-use forests system to 2 million hectares by 2010. There are currently 95 decreed special-use forests, comprising 27 national parks, 40 nature reserves and 28 cultural and historical sites covering more than 1,800,000 hectares (Tordoff et al. 2004b). Although a small number of Vietnamese protected areas have levels of funding comparable to those in developed countries, the vast majority faces a variety of constraints in terms of financial resources, personnel and capacity (IUCN 2002b).

After Thailand, Vietnam has the largest number of national protected areas in the region. Again, this partly reflects the greater degree of fragmentation of natural habitats in Vietnam than in certain other countries. A review of the national protected area network conducted in 1999 revealed the biggest gap in coverage of terrestrial forest ecosystems within the network to be lowland evergreen forest between 300 and 700 m asl (Wege et al. 1999). Regarding other ecosystems, although some freshwater and coastal wetlands are included within the protected area network, these ecosystems remain notably under-represented (Tordoff et al. 2004b).

In the 1980s, the Vietnam National Conservation Strategy was published (IUCN and WWF 1995). This strategy, together with the Tropical Forestry Action Plan published in 1991, became the basis of the National Plan for Environment and Sustainable Development 1991-2000, which set out government policy for conservation and prioritized action areas (Tordoff 2002). The National Strategy for Environment Protection 2001-2010 and the accompanying National Environmental Action Plan 2001-2005 superseded this plan. An additional recent initiative, the National Five Million Hectare Reforestation Program 1998-2010, aims to restore forest cover to 1945 levels by the year 2010, preserve genetic resources and protect biodiversity. Government institutions, bilateral and multilateral donor organizations and international conservation organizations support its implementation through the framework of the Forest Sector Support Program (Tordoff 2002).

Regional Agreements
All countries in the region except China are members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Although international collaboration through ASEAN is increasing markedly, it is primarily linked to economic development and the adoption of more market-oriented policies and improved international trade fora. While the ASEAN Agreement on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, adopted in 1985, offers an opportunity to forge further links, it has only been signed by Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, and has not yet entered into force. The agreement covers a broad range of conservation and development issues, including the conservation of threatened and endemic species and their habitats. In addition, ASEAN has a provision for the establishment of ASEAN Heritage Parks and Reserves, a number of which have been nominated within Indochina, such as Khao Yai National Park in Thailand and Hoang Lien National Park in Vietnam. ASEAN also has provisions to assist member countries to establish trans-boundary nature reserves.

The Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy, which is coordinated by Wetlands International with support from the governments of Japan and Australia, provides an international cooperative framework for all countries in the region (Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Committee 2001). Under this strategy, three networks of sites of international importance for migratory waterbirds have been established: the East Asian Anatidae Site Network, the East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Site Network, and the North East Asian Crane Site Network. Conservation action being taken for these networks includes environmental awareness and education, surveys, and training courses in wetland management.

International Conventions
All five countries in Indochina are signatories to a number of international agreements promoting biodiversity conservation and sustainable natural resource use; these are summarized in Table 7. One of the most significant recent developments regarding participation in international agreements is Lao P.D.R.'s accession to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In addition, Thailand recently ratified the CBD, making the country eligible for CEPF support and GEF funding. To date, however, no country in the region has signed the Convention on Migratory Species, although all five countries support globally significant numbers of migratory species, including several globally threatened species.

Table 7. Participation in International Agreements by the Five Countries in Indochina

Cambodia CP-c CP (3) CP - CP (1) CP NC (1)
China* CP-c CP (21) CP - CP (28) CP NC (22)
Lao P.D.R. CP-p - CP - CP (2) CP -
Thailand CP-p CP (10) CP - CP (4) CP NC (4)
Vietnam CP-c CP (1) CP - CP (4) CP NC (2)

Source: adapted from BirdLife International (2003a). Note: * = figures are for the whole country. Key: CBD = Convention on Biological Diversity (CP–c = Contracting Party, National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) completed; CP–p = Contracting Party, NBSAP in preparation); Ramsar = Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (CP = Contracting Party; figures in brackets are the number of Ramsar sites at June 2003); CITES = Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CP = Contracting Party); CMS = Convention on Migratory Species; WHC = World Heritage Convention (CP = Contracting Party; figures in brackets are the number of World Heritage Sites at July 2002); UNCCD: United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (CP = Contracting Party); MAB = UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program (NC = National Committee formed; figures in brackets are the number of Biosphere Reserves at November 2002).

CITES has been in operation since 1975 and has 169 member countries. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of species. CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of select species to certain controls. These require that all import, export, re-export and introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention must be authorized through a licensing system. The species covered by CITES are listed in three appendices: Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction and can only be traded in exceptional circumstances; Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival; and Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country that has asked other CITES member countries to assist in controlling the trade. CITES is an important convention for Indochina, where trade in wildlife and wildlife products is a severe threat to a suite of globally threatened species.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
This convention, effective since 1993, has 188 member countries. Its objectives are the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. It seeks to promote conservation of biological diversity in the wild, through requesting signatories to identify regions of biodiversity importance; establish a system of protected areas; restore degraded ecosystems; maintain viable populations of species in natural surroundings; and develop or maintain necessary legislation and/or other regulatory provisions for the protection of threatened species and populations.

World Heritage Convention (WHC)
Effective since 1975, this convention has 176 member countries. Its aim is to identify and conserve cultural and natural monuments and sites of outstanding universal value, through the nomination of World Heritage Sites by national governments and their recognition by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The great majority of World Heritage Sites in the region have been nominated on the basis of their cultural values, although several have been nominated for their natural values, such as Huai Kha Khaeng and Thung Yai-Naresuan in Thailand. Several other sites clearly meet the criteria for natural World Heritage Sites but have not yet been nominated, for instance the Annamite Mountains of Lao P.D.R. and Vietnam.

Ramsar Convention
Effective since 1975, the Ramsar Convention, also known as the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, has 151 member countries. It provides a framework for international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. Globally, the contracting parties have designated 1,593 wetland sites, totaling 134.7 million hectares. Within Indochina, there are 15 Ramsar sites, comprising three in Cambodia, one in Hong Kong, 10 in Thailand and one in Vietnam, and including such sites as Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay in Hong Kong and Xuan Thuy in Vietnam.

UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB)
This program operates through national committees and focal points among UNESCO member states. It aims to develop a basis, within the natural and the social sciences, for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and for the improvement of the relationship between people and their environment, encouraging interdisciplinary research, demonstration and training in natural resources management. An essential tool for the MAB program is the network of Biosphere Reserves, which are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems where solutions are promoted to reconcile biodiversity conservation with its sustainable use. They include Xishuangbanna in southern China, Sakaerat in Thailand and Tonle Sap in Cambodia.

Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn Convention)
The Bonn Convention has been implemented since 1983 and has 95 member countries. Its objective is to protect migratory species that cross international borders. The species are listed in two appendices of the convention. The convention requires parties to prohibit the taking of species on Appendix I, to reach agreements with other range states for the conservation and management of species on Appendix II and to conserve and restore important habitats, remove impeding activities or obstacles, and tackle other factors that endanger Appendix I species. To date, no country in Indochina is a party to the convention, although Cambodia and China participate in some related agreements.

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