Illegal Logging Causing Huge Problems in The North

Daily News - Vietnam: Dec. 27, 2016

The problem with illegal logging in Vietnam is still causing serious issues. In the northern mountains of Ha Giang Province, centuries-old trees are disappearing across the border to China. The Burretiodendron hsienmu is a species of flowering tree of the Tiliaceae family and is now considered under threat. It has the local name of nghien and is highly valued for its hardness and durability. Traditionally it has been used to make the stilts for the famous stilt houses.

The deforestation in the area has led the Prime Minister to close the Phong Quang Special Use Forest (SUF) completely for commercial exploitation. However, this has not, as yet, slowed down the illegal operations. A recent Vietnamplus report stated that whilst the authorities are aware of the problem, they have been unable to stop it. The head of the Phong Quang Rangers in the region said that they simply don’t have enough manpower to cover such a large area. The only way into the forest is a single track through treacherous mountains, where the illegal loggers simply post a look-out.

The criminal gangs are normally paid by traders who pay then to cut them down and carry them over the border into China. The gangs arrive at night, and using petrol-powered saws, often paid for by the traders, cut down about 10 trees at a time. The look-outs simply watch out for the torchlights of the wardens. These are not small trees, and when you consider that they can earn as much as VND1.8 million for a single block measuring 40-50cm in diameter and 25-30cm thick, one can see the temptation.

In the first nine months of the year there were a staggering 251 cases of violations, with fines reaching VND1.8 billion. Reporting these figures, Bui Van Dong, head of Ha Giang’s Department of Forest Protection (DFP), said, “The law clearly states that the responsibility for deforestation lies with the forest managers. Of course, we have to see if the forest area where logging takes place has been assigned to anyone else.”

There have been some show trials to try and scare off the illegal loggers. By holding one such trial in Vi Xuyen District on a big market day in August, the People’s Court gained maximum publicity. Four locals had been arrested for illegally cutting down nghien trees, causing damage worth VND77.1 million. They were sentenced to between 18 and 30 months in jail. However, future success can only be achieved with the compliance of locals. The Deputy Chairman of the Ha Giang People’s Committee, Nguyen Minh Tien, said, “Forests are valuable capital for future generations, and measures are being implemented to preserve and promote this capital.”

Local infrastructure has been improved with proper paved roads and electricity lines into some of the more remote villages. In other areas some households have been relocated out of important forest areas. Others, however, have been given tenure of the land with the right to exploit it in a sustainable way – with the proviso that they act as wardens to protect the trees.

The authorities are also helping locals to control the purchase and use of logging equipment and assisting them in their collaborative efforts with forestry patrols.

Head photo by: John Barker

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