On 10 February 2010, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex. The report provides information on progress towards designing and building effective wildlife corridors to mitigate the impacts of the proposed expansion of Highway 304 from two to four lanes, as well as an overview of tourism management provisions within the property’s Management Plan for 2007-2016.
a) The expansion of Highway 304 and the design of effective wildlife corridors
The State Party acknowledges that Highway 304, which traverses the property from north to south and was built prior to its inscription on the World Heritage List, has fragmented the forest complex and affected its values and integrity. In order to mitigate the proposed widening of the highway from two to four lanes, the State Party proposes to put in place a ‘mixed model’ of wildlife corridors, including both elevated roads and wildlife overpasses connecting Khao Yai National Park and Thap Lan National Park. This proposal is based on a wildlife study undertaken as part of the wider Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the highway enlargement. The study confirmed the impacts of the existing road on wildlife (including collisions), determined that wildlife is using the areas on both sides of the road (including large carnivores like gaur), and records several wildlife trails crossing the 28th and 29th km of the highway. The ‘mixed model’ was determined to be the most appropriate and effective type of wildlife corridor through a weighted analysis of several factors including environmental (40%), engineering (30%), economic (20%), and social (10%). Other corridor options considered include: i) a tunnel through the mountain; ii) exclusively elevated roads; iii) a cut-and-fill tunnel; and iv) exclusively wildlife overpasses. The final EIA will be reviewed by the Department of Highways, the National Committee on the Environment and the National Committee on the World Heritage Convention, after which the project will be considered for approval by the Cabinet.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note the State Party’s acknowledgment that the existing highway affects the values and integrity of the property, which coincides with reports received by IUCN from NGOs concerning the high-levels of road kill associated with the road. They recall that at the time of inscription, the World Heritage Committee (Decision 29 COM 8B.11)requested the State Party to carry out a study for the establishment of ecologically effective wildlife corridors across the existing highway to functionally link the western and eastern sectors of the complex. While the State Party should be commended for undertaking the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment studies for the proposed highway expansion, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN remain concerned that this expansion has the potential to create additional problems for the integrity of the ecosystems and species of this property, including through increased levels of road kill, as also noted by the World Heritage Committee in Decision 31 COM 8B.11. They therefore question whether less environmentally damaging alternatives to the proposed expansion of Highway 304 exist, and request the State Party to submit the EIA for this proposal, including a list of the alternatives considered, to the World Heritage Centre as soon as possible.
Concerning the current expansion proposal, IUCN considers that elevated roads combined with wildlife overpasses, which the State Party identifies as the best wildlife corridor option, are unlikely to truly succeed in linking wildlife populations in the east and west of the property. A major tunnel underpass, potentially at several locations, may be more effective at facilitating wildlife movement. IUCN suggests that the State Party re-consider its assessment of the best wildlife corridor approach by reducing the importance accorded to economic factors. IUCN has also received reports that some donors may be interested in funding a more ambitious wildlife corridor infrastructure project.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that implementation of effective wildlife corridors is essential to maintaining the integrity of the property over the long-term, whether or not the existing road is expanded, and may also help minimise increased pressure to wildlife from changing land use in neighbouring forests outside the property. However, it is critical that the State Party first identify and implement the best wildlife corridor proposal on a purely ecological basis. Once the corridors are put in place, it will be necessary to demonstrate their effectiveness in allowing wildlife movement and reducing wildlife mortality from road kills. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN therefore urge the State Party to ensure that sufficient financial resources are available to undertake detailed pre- and post construction monitoring of wildlife corridors, and to adjust the management of the highway based on monitoring results, as required.
b) Managing increased tourism
The State Party reports that the Management Plan for 2007-2016 includes consideration of sustainable tourism, eco-tourism, carrying-capacity, tourism management, and community participation. The report further notes that the Tourism, Recreation and Interpretation Plan is part of the 10 year Management Plan and provides for 8 activities including ecotourism and promoting gateway cities to manage tourism sites within the property.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that the State Party provides little detail on how the Tourism, Recreation and Interpretation Plan will ensure sustainable management of increased tourism pressure. They recommend that the State Party request assistance in designing an effective tourism management plan for the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN would be pleased to provide advice to the State Party in this regard. IUCN recalls that the State Party’s 2007 status report noted that tourist visits had doubled from 700,000 in 2001 to 1.4 million in 2006, and that such high visitor levels could affect the integrity of the property and should be managed through appropriate visitor use planning, based on the carrying-capacity of the property.
c) Other conservation issues of concern
IUCN has received reports that agricultural encroachment is occuring within the property on the north side of Thap Lan National Park and recommends that the State Party take action to investigate this issue, and to ensure that such encroachment is not allowed within the property. IUCN further recommends the State Party closely monitor the level of encroachement in all protected areas within the sites, in conjunction with activities to measure and monitor Thailand’s forest resources, and also to consider the opportunities to integrate forest conservation within international programmes, including Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD)..