The Forestry Department manages forests in KNU controlled areas, as well as providing training in sustainable community forest management. For generations, the Karen people have depended on the forests for their livelihoods. The Karen People’s traditional beliefs, culture, and security are deeply linked with the forest resources and environment. Karen people have learned how to use the forest in a sustainable way and have avoided over-exploiting the forest resources. There have been many species in the forest whose use by Karen people has been banned for many centuries. These practices have been passed down from generation to generation. The indigenous knowledge of forest management has never been written down. Now is the time to review the informal and unwritten practices and ensure that KNU Forest Policy is consistent with sustainable indigenous practices. Today, changes in development and education have affected traditional Karen forest management. The younger generations ignore traditional practices and this knowledge may be lost if it is not preserved.
The forest is the most important natural resource for the Karen livelihood and for maintaining environmental balance. The Karen people have knowledge about the forest that has been passed down from their ancestors. Therefore, the KNU has reorganized the forestry department and given it the legal power to regulate forests.
In 1826, the British set up a colonial government and established economic policies. The British were looking for high quality wood and found the teak tree to be the best. They claimed all teak trees as British colonial government property and did not allow anyone else to cut down the teak trees. In 1826, the colonial government began logging in the Tenasserim and Salween districts for their economic development. Logs were floated down the Salween River to the gulf of Mauntama, and the wood was sold to European countries and India.
By 1852, logging had expanded to Pago and Pago Yoma Range. Most of the workers were recruited from Tenasserim. The trees were floated down the Sittaung River to the delta for trading. In 1856, the British colonial government formed a forestry department for forest extraction and economic gain. Many Karen people worked in the forestry department to learn technical skills of managing logging and timber exportations. In 1870, the colonial government established forest reserve areas, teak forest plantation areas, and wildlife sanctuaries. Many restrictions were placed on the forest and the Karen people, many of whom depended on the forest for their livelihood, faced great difficulties. In 1902, a Law was passed by the colonial government because of the damage that the trading of timber, wildlife, and other natural resources had done to the environment. In 1948 Burma got independence from the British Colonial government and on 14 June 1949 the Karen leaders had a conference and established a system of governance.
Mr. Sein Htin was elected as the head of the Karen Agriculture and Forestry departments. By 1955, the major logging activities in Burma had stopped. In June of that year the first (KRC) congress was held. During the congress the Central Committee members amended certain Policies and elected Mr. Sue Maung Lwin as head of the Agriculture Department. In 1956 the second Karen National Congress was held at Mou Ko Kee and Mr. Mahn Hsa Plate was elected to head the Forestry Department and Agriculture Department. In 1966, Governor Tha Pyee became the head of Agriculture and Forestry departments. In 1972, a meeting was held on the Forest Act and Mr. Jackot translated the Act from English to Burmese. In 1974, the ninth congress of the KNU Forestry Department ratified the Forest Act. In 1980, Saw Aung San became the head of the Forestry Department. Since then logging activity has increased. The (SLORC) government sold five-year contracts to thirty-six Thai companies for forty-two forest areas. These logging contracts led to the destruction of 18,800 Km of forest within five years. In December 1993, due to the pressure of many countries, the (SLORC) stopped logging activities along the Thai-Burma border. From 1996 to 1998, illegal logging activities occurred in the Salween River valley and many people blamed Aung San, which is one of the reasons that Aung San surrendered to (SLORC). After that major logging activities seemed to stop in Burma.