Fri, Jul 05, 2019 - Page 2 News List

New rules detail Aboriginal rights in forests

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

The Forestry Bureau yesterday unveiled new regulations detailing the rights of Aborigines to collect forest resources in government-owned areas for nonprofit purposes.

While an amendment to Article 15 of the Forestry Act (森林法) in 2004 permitted Aborigines to collect forest products in their traditional domains to meet daily and ritual needs, the varieties, location and collection of the products were not clearly defined, which has caused controversy at times, bureau Director-General Lin Hwa-ching (林華慶) told a news conference in Taipei.

Lin cited as an example the case of three men from the Atayal village of Qalang Smangus (司馬庫斯) in Hsinchu County who were charged with theft for transporting part of a Zelkova tree felled by a typhoon that was blocking the road connecting their community to the outside.

It was not until 2010 that the three were acquitted by the Taiwan High Court, which cited the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act (原住民族基本法) to defend their rights, he said.

The case shows that unclear regulations on forest product collection is a thorn on the side of Aborigines and causes trouble for law enforcement officers, Lin said.

After consulting the Council of Indigenous Peoples and experts on Aboriginal issues over the past few years, the bureau finally announced the Regulations Governing Indigenous Peoples Collecting Forest Products Based on their Customs under the framework of the Forestry Act, he said.

With the regulations taking effect yesterday, Aborigines can freely harvest wild plants, except for protected species, without having to file an application beforehand, the bureau said, adding that they should bring their identification documents with them in case of spot checks.

To collect timber, they have to submit a proposal to their community council. Once it is approved by the council, it has to published for public review to avoid conflict with neighboring communities, it said.

Aborigines can gather main forest products for free if they are to be used for ceremonial purposes or the public interest, but collection for personal use would have to be paid for, it said, adding that they have to submit a proposal for official approval.

Wu Hsueh-yueh (吳雪月), a Hualien-based Amis committed to preserving Taiwan’s native plants, lauded the new regulations.

Wu said she has learned from community elders as well as animals that many more plants in the wild are edible.

Aborigines would never overexploit natural resources, she said, adding that she hoped to pass on Aboriginal knowledge about herbs to more people.

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