"Protected Areas in the Lao PDR"
A talk by Klaus Berkmüller
Alyson, Hans Bänziger, Saengdao
Bänziger, Klaus Bettenhauzen, Alex Brodard, Guy Cardinal, Liane
Chamsai, Ly Cheerds, Barry Flaming, Louis Gabaude, Emma Guégan, Oliver Hargreave, Sandrine Hervouet, Carool Kersten, Kim Kox, Prasit Leepreecha, Patcharaporn Leepreecha,
Mona Maiber, Shawn Nance, Richard
Nelson-Jones, Thomas Ohlson, Nattiluck Thadruk, Kevin Woods. An audience of 23.
About Klaus: A German
national, Klaus Berkmüller holds a BSc.
and a MSc. in Natural Resources, both from
the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is the author of the books
'Guidelines and Techniques for Environmental Interpretation' and
'Environmental Education about the Rain Forest'. He is co-editor of the
Manual of Wildlife Techniques for India and principal
contributor to A Manager's Guide to Protected Area Management in the
His work in
conservation began in 1972 when he helped set up the Nature Education
Centre Khao Chong in Trang province of
Subsequent assignments on contract to the FAO/Wildlife Institute of
India, The World Conservation Union (IUCN), Forest Research Institute
Malaysia (FRIM), the ASEAN Regional Centre for Biodiversity
Conservation (ARCBC), and the Phu Khieo-European Union Project (PKEU) were mainly
within the South and Southeast Asian region.
Conservation Advisor of the Lao-Swedish Forestry Cooperation Program,
Klaus was involved in the selection of candidate areas for the
protected area system. As advisor to the Dutch funded Biodiversity
Conservation Project, he was concerned with management implementation
for two National Biodiversity Conservation Areas, (NBCA) in the
southern Lao province
Klaus Berkmüller's summary of his talk:
By way of
introduction, I shared some of my first impressions of life in Laos in
1989 and the early nineties, when children called you not 'farang' but
'Soviet', when the streets of Vientiane were still empty, and Big
Brother's hollow voice was broadcast from loudspeakers in the early
morning hours. Laos
was then - and still is - a country without books.
depicted a rosy picture of the future; the revolutionary spirit was
still palpable while the Party controlled all aspects of public life. Laos
had apparently made considerable headway toward an egalitarian society.
The 'wai' was out, the handshake was in. Civil service and party
officials not only espoused the virtues of manual labor but actually
joined in. In closed meetings, the leaders were exposed to criticisms
from the lower ranks. Basic democracy at work?
It also seemed that
the government was prepared to take decisive pro-conservation action;
i.e. in one fell swoop, the effective enforcement of a ban on logging
in natural forest and the declaration of 18 protected areas.
However, Big Brother
also turned out to be a 'control freak'. To this day, you still have
passport and ID controls on domestic flights. There are no indigenous
NGOs, and no press to speak of. Everything printed is subject to
censorship and vetting. Personnel decisions are tightly controlled by
the party and based less on competence than on loyalty to the party.
This has obvious repercussions on the capacity of the civil service.
The good humor and
companionship of my Lao colleagues went a long way in coping with the
minor hardships and hazards of upcountry travel, be it being bogged
down in deep sand, being stuck in river crossings, or being enticed
into competitive consumption of locally distilled liquor.
The main task for the
Conservation Unit (established in 1988) of the Lao-Swe
dish Forestry Cooperation Program was to "evaluate the options for
establishing a representative system of large protected areas that
contain most of the country's biodiversity." To maximize the prospects
for capturing and maintaining biodiversity, these areas had to be
large, had to contain extensive and undisturbed tracts of natural
vegetation, and harbor viable populations of important wildlife
To be representative,
the system resulting from the search for these areas, it had to
represent each of the country's biogeographic
units, altitude zones, and vegetation types as well as contain the full
range of indigenous wildlife species. The search involved the study of
land use maps and satellite images, some aerial inspection, road-based
surveys, and village interviews. In 1993 the Conservation Unit
recommended 17 areas and a further 11 areas in 1995 for declaration as
National Biodiversity Conservation Areas, (NBCA) a term reflecting
their national importance while not committing them to any formal
designation following international standards. The Lao Government
proclaimed all 17 areas recommended in 1993 plus one area that had not
been proposed by the Conservation Unit. An additional four areas were
added after 1995 bringing the total number of national level protected
areas to 22, covering over 12% of the country's land surface.
coverage requirements in terms of biogeographic
distribution, altitude zones and vegetation type, are largely
satisfied. Evergreen forest and dry dipterocarp
forest remain below the arbitrary target of 10% of their original
extent. However, if we take present day extent as a basis for
comparison, most of the evergreen and some 10% of the dry dipterocarp forests are in declared NBCA.
surveys in the declared and recommended NBCA allowed an analysis of the
system's effectiveness in protecting the full range of indigenous
species. An analysis of birds showed that 36 priority species were not
confirmed from any protected area and that the missing species were
mainly those typical for wetlands and open forest.
Despite such gaps,
the system provides a solid base for conservation management. Unlike Thailand,
the Lao government clearly has a vision of protected area management by
the people for the people. How to reconcile this with the conservation
objective enshrined in the law posed a huge challenge for anyone trying
to establish a credible management system.
The Lao government as well as conservation project donors
advocate the ICAD approach (Integrated Conservation and
Development) as a standard tool for protected area management. Applied
in two southern protected areas, several attempts failed because, even
with the resources available to a project, it was impossible to control
all of the essential variables. Experience elsewhere has shown that the
ICAD approach is most successful in situations where resource
conservation is directly associated with financial benefits. To improve
the odds, several such opportunities were identified involving
eco-tourism and the sustainable management of forest products.
Klaus' talk ended
with a tribute to the Lao project staff who
had pioneered and implemented protected area management under difficult
circumstances. Some of the advances made in the mid-nineties seem to
have unraveled in recent years. Nevertheless, the Lao protected areas
are here to stay and safeguard nature's treasure trove for future
After the question
and answer session, the meeting adjourned to the Alliance cafeteria where, over drinks
and snacks, members of the audience engaged Klaus in more informal