Srongpol Chantharueang remembers his parents telling him as a boy always to protect the local wetland forest when he grew up. They told him that the ecosystem would be important for his life and that of his community. “I didn’t understand what they meant at the time,” he told Mongabay via a video call in December 2020. “I didn’t understand what the true value of the wetland forest was.”
A village leader, Srongpol lives in Ban Boon Rueang, a town in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province. Nestled between the Doi Yao mountain range and the lower reaches of the Ing River, a 260-kilometer (160-mile) tributary of the Mekong, Ban Boon Rueang is an unassuming town with an agrarian lifestyle that goes back generations. But in recent years, community members have been roused to take action to protect the surrounding nature that provides them with sustenance and secures spiritual connections to their ancestors.
The community averted tragedy in 2015 when the Thai central government declared the local wetland forest — a 483-hectare (1,200-acre) haven of biodiversity — a target for the development of a special economic zone (SEZ), as part of a nationwide strategy to expand infrastructure and attract foreign investment.