Forest rangers in a remote district in Vietnam’s mountainous northern area are off to a good start in their 2017 fight against illegal loggers, catching two men red-handed carrying unlawfully harvested timber only days into the New Year.
The successful prevention of illegal logging sparked public debate, however, as the timber, seized in two separate cases, only amounted to three round cutting boards, each measuring 30-50cm in diameter.
The incident took place in Meo Vac District, Ha Giang Province, on January 4, when a patrol team from the local park ranger agency caught Giang Mi Lau, 25, carrying a cutting board on his motorbike.
The cutting board was identified as being made from nghien wood, an ironwood species scientifically known as Burretiodendron hsienmu, commonly found in Vietnam and China.
The wood taken from a Burretiodendron hsienmu tree is hard, tough, and durable - great characteristics that enable ethnic minorities in high rocky areas, mainly the Tay and Nung people, to use the wood for columns, floors for stilt houses, and cutting boards.
In Vietnam, Burretiodendron hsienmu falls into the IIA category, meaning it is considered a precious species.
Lau confessed to park officers that he sourced the timber from a local man and was on his way to deliver it to a nearby village when he was caught.
Also on January 4, the same patrol team caught Vang Chu Linh, 32, attempting to sell two nghien cutting boards, each measuring 30 and 40 cm in diameter, in Meo Vac.
The Meo Vac park rangers subsequently booked the cases and are verifying the origins of the seized woods.
Illegally logged nghien timbers seized in a separate case
The news reports of two ‘illegal loggers’ caught when transporting cutting boards have provoked mixed responses on social media, with many saying the cases are too trivial for park rangers to focus on.
Those concerned believe the park officers should instead focus on efforts to crack down on larger-scale illegal logging in the area.
In the meantime, Bui Van Dong, head of the Ha Giang park ranger department, said even when only one cutting board is involved, the case must be strictly handled if a precious type of wood is found.
The exploitation and transportation of IIA woods is completely prohibited, so any breach of the rule must be sanctioned, Dong told reporters.
Dong added that park rangers should handle any case of illegal logging, regardless of whether it is a small- or large-scale violation.