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LCQ19: Measures to combat illegal felling of trees of valuable species

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Kwok-hing and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, in the Legislative Council today (February 4):


     Some members of the public have relayed to me that cases of illegal felling of trees of valuable species have occurred one after another in recent years. For instance, an Aquilaria sinensis aged 80 years was felled at the end of last year. They are of the view that the results of the Government's tree conservation work are unsatisfactory, and the Forests and Countryside Ordinance (Cap 96) is unable to curb illegal tree-felling effectively. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of trees of valuable species which were illegally felled in each of the past three years; among these trees, of the respective numbers of trees belonging to the species of Podocarpus macrophyllus (Buddhist pines), Aquilaria sinensis (incense trees) and Diospyros vaccinioides; whether the Government has conducted a territory-wide survey to gather information on the numbers and distribution of trees of those species; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) of the number of cases of illegal felling of trees of valuable species uncovered in each of the past three years, and the respective numbers of persons prosecuted and convicted for illegal tree-felling; the number of non-Hong Kong residents among these persons; apart from Cap 96, which legislation the authorities invoked to prosecute the persons concerned; whether the authorities will enact a comprehensive piece of legislation to curb illegal tree-felling and increase the penalties concerned; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) of the manpower for and expenditure on law enforcement against illegal tree-felling in each of the past three years; whether the authorities encountered difficulties in carrying out the task; if they did, of the details; whether the authorities will step up patrol at the black spots of illegal tree-felling and enhance the measures for preventing tree-felling; if they will, of the details; whether the authorities will adopt the tree guard monitoring systems developed overseas or by local tertiary institutions to prevent tree-felling?



     The Government has always been very concerned about the illegal tree-felling activities in relation to native trees, such as Aquilaria sinensis (incense tree). Various departments concerned are committed to taking enforcement actions and stepping up patrols at black spots of illegal tree-felling with joint efforts.  

     Our reply to the Hon Wong's question is as follows:

(1) and (2) The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has been conducting surveys and studies over the years to gather information on the distribution of most of the native plants, including Podocarpus macrophyllus (Buddhist pine), Aquilaria sinensis (incense tree) and Diospyros vaccinioides. Our information shows that Buddhist pines mainly grow at the eastern coast; incense trees are mostly found in lowland broadleaf forests or in fung shui woods behind rural villages; and Diospyros vaccinioides is a very common shrub which is widely distributed in woodlands and shrublands in the territory. The AFCD does not maintain a record of the number of individuals of the above plants.

     Currently, offenders suspected of involving in illegal felling of incense trees and Buddhist pines are mainly prosecuted for criminal offences on theft, criminal damage, possession of offensive weapon, going equipped for stealing, etc. The number of incense tree and Buddhist pine cases and prosecutions handled by the Police under the above-mentioned offences in the recent three years are set out at Annex I and Annex II respectively. The Police does not maintain data on the nationalities of the persons involved.

     As for cases of felling of other plants, the number of investigations and prosecutions initiated by the AFCD under the Forests and Countryside Ordinance (Cap 96) and the Country Parks Ordinance (Cap 208) are set out at Annex III. Among them, there are three cases involving Diospyros vaccinioides.

     Existing legislation relating to prosecutions against illegal tree-felling includes the Forests and Countryside Ordinance, the Country Parks Ordinance and its regulations, as well as the Theft Ordinance (Cap 210). Under the Forests and Countryside Ordinance and the Country Parks Ordinance, any person who vandalises or damages a tree, including felling a tree illegally, is liable to a fine and/or imprisonment. Depending on the circumstances of individual cases, the Police may initiate prosecutions under the Theft Ordinance, which imposes a heavier penalty. Any person arrested and charged with theft is liable to a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 10 years. The Government takes the view that the penalty already has a deterrent effect on the offenders. Therefore, we have no intention to increase the penalty at present.

(3) The AFCD closely cooperates with the Police in combating against illegal tree-felling activities.  As for the Police Force, it has stepped up patrols at relevant black-spots, as well as strengthened its communication with the villagers to collect intelligence on illegal tree-felling and suspicious persons nearby. The AFCD has also been conducting regular patrols in country parks and special areas, as well as joint operations with the Police from time to time at black spots of illegal tree-felling. As the above patrolling and law enforcement duties are part of the day-to-day duties of the departments concerned, a breakdown of the manpower and expenditure involved for such duties is not available.

     Despite efforts made by various enforcement agencies in combating illegal tree-felling activities, it is difficult to eliminate such activities completely even with increased patrols, given that different types of plants are widely distributed in countryside areas throughout Hong Kong. The application of electronic monitoring systems in the countryside is subject to physical constraints, which may not be effective in preventing illegal felling activities. Furthermore, substantial resources have to be put in place in this regard. To combat illegal tree-felling activities, the co-operation of citizens, especially the residents living in the vicinity, is important.  Any person who finds illegal tree-felling activities should inform the Police and the relevant government departments as soon as possible, so that timely enforcement actions can be taken. The AFCD and the Police will step up publicity in this regard in the coming year.

Ends/Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Issued at HKT 12:52


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