Natural forests in Vietnam continue to fall victim to illegal logging, despite orders from the prime minister to shut down access to at-risk areas last year.
Following a directive from PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc in late June 2016, local authorities are no longer permitted to approve or legalize the exploitation of wood in these forests, yet loggers are still finding ways to chop these protected trees.
According to the Vietnam Administration of Forestry, some 279 hectares of forest across the country was damaged in the first five months this year, a 118-hectare decrease compared to 2016.
The most recent violation was discovered in mid-March at the protected Bac Tra My forest in the central province of Quang Nam, where a large number of trees, some measuring up to one meter in diameter, were discovered to have been cut down.
At another protected forest in Tra Son Commune, Quang Nam, numerous trees had also been chopped and cut into logs measuring 1.5 to two meters in length and 40 to 60 centimeters in diameter, all of which were left along a path leading to the forest.
Local inspectors, however, only recorded four missing trees following their examination.
Several sections of forest in Dong Giang, Nam Giang, and Phuoc Son Districts were also damaged by fire, destruction which can be easily spotted while traveling on the Ho Chi Minh Highway.
According to Nguyen Dinh Khiem, a forest protection officer, local residents sometimes burn a part of these forests to make space for their agricultural activities.
This ‘bleeding’ of forests still happens from time to time, Khiem said.
A tree is cut down at the Bac Tra My protection forest in Quang Nam Province. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Statistics from the provincial Department of Forest Protection showed that over 1,035 forest-related violations were recorded in 2016, and about 205 cases were logged in the first three months of 2017.
Despite the positive changes brought about by the premier’s order last year, serious cases of deforestation are still occurring, including the illegal falling of 60 century-old fokienia trees, locally known as ‘po mu,’ in Nam Giang District.
Even more upsetting was that the tragedy took place in close proximity to the local border guard office.
“It was a serious lesson as it affected the trust of people in the authorities,” said Pham Thi Nhu, vice-chairwoman of the People’s Committee in Nam Giang.
Speaking with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Colonel Nguyen Duc Dung, deputy director of the provincial Department of Police, confirmed that 20 suspects had been arrested for their involvement in the incident.
PM Phuc’s order was the right decision, Phan Tuan, head of the Quang Nam forest protection department, stated, adding that it has posed some challenges for local authorities.
While extra efforts must to be exerted to protect natural forests, the number of protection officers has been reduced, meaning one officer has to manage a much larger area of forest than in the past, Tuan elaborated.
Tu Van Khanh, Tuan’s deputy, considered it necessary to tighten the management of forests along with suitable policies and assistance from local households.