December 4th each year is celebrated as Thai Environment Day and this year 2012 marks the third anniversary of a program to improve the environment of Chiang Mai’s polluted Mae Kha Canal.
The site of the inauguration ceremony, opposite the large Denchai store on Sanamkila Rd is shown in this recent photograph below and contrasted with a picture taken three years earlier.
While today’s view is more pleasing to the eye than what went before the greenery masks an unsavory story.
Three years back what can we see? An informal footpath and small trees less than 50 cm in height. Gum Hak Doi Suthep provided ten indigenous trees , all of different species, at the request of the organizers and at the opening deputies for the Mayor and the Governor each “planted” a tree. Actually they only held a tree while a workman did the planting. The Municipal workers had also planted potted marigolds which as the picture shows had died soon after as none were watered in dry December. The trees along this 90 m stretch however, mostly did well, as Gum Hak Doi Suthep organised watering weekly until April , work which would not have been necessary had the trees been planted in June.
Three years later the trees have grown but the path has vanished. In 2009 there was talk about having a walking and cycling path along the Mae Kha and just south of this spot a 200metre long path was built some years earlier. However the owner of the gas filling station which now abuts the Mae Kha, and I am told with the agreement of Town Hall officials, thought otherwise and built a retaining wall to replace the former sloping edge of the site. Appeals to the organisers of the opening ceremony of 2009 went unanswered and the wall, which in places is one metre from the large pipe has obliterated the path. One wonders if there be a long term secret plan involving a board walk cantilevered over this stretch of the canal, which would no doubt benefit some lucky contractor?
A second stage in restoring lost trees to the banks of the Mae Kha, with no fanfare began this time at the beginning of the early rainy season of 2011. Some sixty local trees were planted along the 300 m path at Chang Klan, south of Sridonchai Rd and in the following year regular volunteer working bees kept down the weeds and swept the pathway.
For comparison this posting from May 2011 shows the area prior to planting.
An Alternative Approach
The two stages of streamside revegetation described above may be contrasted with a parallel development undertaken immediately south of the Super Highway opposite the Lanna Hospital.
Planting at this 60 m long site began in mid 2011 following mechanical dredging of the canal . ( The reader may wonder why it was considered necessary to plant trees along Thaksin Way? The answer is that most of the trees which had been planted along the 300 metre path following its construction were destroyed by the municipality when it used a mechanical dredge to remove sediment from the Mae Kha. )
This project had the financial support of the Environment Ministry and municipality as the signs indicate. Planting consisted of mainly small ornamental shrubs and a narrow footpath was also constructed. The palm trees shown in the picture which cost 600 baht a piece at the nearby Kham Thien market were added in 2012. Gum Hak Doi Suthep also helped by planting some indigenous trees but only two remain the rest having been cut down.
Destruction of indigenous trees along the Mae Kha is not restricted to this area. Of the ten or so trees planted alongside the Denchai department store only one remains and all the trees along the Mae Kha remain under threat from heavy handed “management” directed by officials who have not taken the trouble to seek and follow expert advice.
The reader can make a judgement about which approach of the two offered above is leading to restoring the shade and natural diversity along the Mae Kha.
Suggestions about how proceed in terms of policy and training to develop the Mae Kha into an asset for Chiang Mai are welcome.
On Friday 7th December 2012 a forum to discuss the future of the Mae Kha, organised by the Provincial Administrative Organisation, will be held at its hall beside the Lalita Restaurant which is located at the South Western corner of the Provincial Office Percinct just North of the Green Lake on the Irrigation Canal Road.