#SaveThapLan: A Reflection of Democratic Values in Forest Conservation

BANGKOK — The #SaveThapLan trend and comments supporting forest protection have been spreading across Thai social media since the beginning of the week. This wave followed a campaign by the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation opposing the possible separation of 265,000 rai from the 1.4 million rai of Thap Lan National Park, which would put the area at risk of exploitation by investors.

Many people envision a scenario where the forests inhabited by elephants and other wildlife are severely threatened by human encroachment, which has accelerated the spread of the #SaveThapLan movement.

The origins of the #SaveThapLan trend are related to a public hearing scheduled from 28 June to 12 July. This hearing follows the previous government’s decision to review whether 265,286.58 rai of Thap Lan National Park should be removed from protected forest status and established as part of ‘One Map.’ Of this land, 58,000 rai overlap with existing residential areas.

This broad public engagement, even if it is partly a quick social reaction of many netizens without understanding clear and detailed information, reflects the democratic mechanisms at work in a society that, unlike the period of non-democracy, is open to listening, questioning, and examining.


Thaplan National Park

Importance of Public Hearing

On July 9, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin addressed the issue, stating that it originated from a decision by the previous administration. The National Land Policy Committee (NLPC) was instructed to review the facts, while the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment was directed to adhere to relevant laws.

The Prime Minister emphasized the importance of conducting public hearings before any land withdrawal, ensuring compliance with various legal procedures, and presenting the matter to the Cabinet for consideration. This includes the way to create ‘One Map.’

Gen. Patcharawat Wongsuwan, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, pointed out that the issue is currently being discussed in public. The government is listening to all voices, including those of the opposition.

After the July 12 deadline, the ministry will compile the submissions and submit them to the National Parks Department for consideration. The aim is to resolve the matter within 30 days, focusing primarily on the 58,000 rai of land belonging to local residents.

Resolve the 40-year-old problem

Atthapol Charoenchansa, Director General of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, explained that this problem has been going on for 40 years, since 1981. The area was originally reserved forest before it was declared a national park. It was later allocated to Thai development participants and surrounding communities for agricultural use of the 58,000 rai of Wang Nam Khiao forest.

A villager from Ban Thai Samakkhi, Moo 1, Khum Khlong Krathung, Wang Nam Khiao District, Nakhon Ratchasima Province, point to a boundary marker declaring the national park area in 1994, located outside their community.

Later, the national park designation overlapped with this area, which was recognized as an omission by the Ministry of Forestry. This led to the demand to exclude the area from the park. A survey in 2000 aimed to redefine the boundaries but was not finalized, so the land is still considered forest.

Several governments have tried to solve the problem, culminating in a decision by the NLPC to transfer the common land to the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO) and submit it to the Cabinet. The previous cabinet approved the NLPC resolution and excluded people with legal problems from protection and exemptions on the land.

#SaveThapLan trend is positive

Atthapol further mentioned that the public hearing on July 4 and 5 received interest from locals and already garnered hundreds of thousands of online supporters nationwide as part of the #SaveThapLan trend. This public awareness and interest is positive.

All data is reviewed by the National Park Committee within 30 days, taking into account all aspects, including land use and forest protection. The over 200,000 rai include residents, buyers and resort groups involved in 12,000 rai that are the subject of litigation, which requires thorough discussion.

A campaign poster by the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation opposes the removal of 265,286.58 rai of Thap Lan National Park from protected forest status.

When asked if the cabinet decision on March 14, 2023 favors investors who use the land for resorts, Atthapol replied that the government is addressing the issue, maintaining the land as state property and requiring users to meet certain conditions. Those who acquire the land illegally will get it back.

Meanwhile, Capt. Thammanat Prompao, Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, stated that his ministry was not involved in the matter and emphasized that it was not within the jurisdiction of the current government. As the regulatory body of ALRO, which is responsible for land distribution to farmers, it will abide by the guidelines, but the current moves do not fall under the purview of ALRO.

Panudet Kerdmali, chairman of the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, warned that Thailand, whose land is 40 percent forest, must carefully consider any land withdrawal to avoid setting a precedent for future private gains that could potentially lead to the removal of other protected areas.


Consider each context differently

Poonsak Chanjampi, a Move Forward Party MP and Chairman of the Committee on Land, Natural Resources, and Environment, stated that in managing forest areas, especially in national park zones, we must consider each context differently. In the Thap Lan National Park area, there are three overlapping groups of people:

The first group consists of people who lived there before the national park was declared in 1981. The second group includes those who received Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO) rights and were permitted to make a living in ALRO areas. The third group comprises those who entered after the national park was declared, resulting in legal cases. As far as we know, there are over 400 cases where the National Parks Department has sued encroachers.


Poonsak continued that we must handle each of these three groups differently. We can’t lump everything together and declare the entire area as a national park because the first group of people would lose their rights.

“We must acknowledge that the rights of people who lived in the forest area before must be proven. This verification process may be somewhat delayed, but it’s worthwhile for the people who have been waiting for these rights since 1981 – over 40 years now. They should be granted their rights as well,” he said.