Deforestation on the rise in northern, central Vietnam
Illegal logging is escalating in the country's northern and central provinces, wreaking havoc on the environment and threatening to worsen floods in the area.
Forests in mountainous areas are being chopped down for logs while coastal mangrove forests are being cleared for fish farms, several local news agencies reported.
Many locals, hired to protect the forests, have colluded with illegal loggers while park rangers have been involved in bloody battles over the protection of the forests.
In mid-April, park rangers of Son Ha Forest in Quang Ngai Province spotted two people illegally carrying logs, Thanh Nien learned.
Ranger Nguyen Quoc Bao chased the two but was attacked by another two accomplices of the violators. He suffered a broken arm and seriously injured hand.
On April 21, Le Hoang Son, chief park ranger of Dong Giang District in Quang Nam Province had to ask for police protection after being harassed by an illegal logger who continuously sent messages threatening to kill him.
Son said the suspect was Tran Duc Lam of Da Nang City, who had previously been fined for illegally transporting logs.
Some illegal tree-cutters have even stormed the office of park rangers who have seized their logs and means of transport.
In the latest case, illegal loggers congregated at the Forest Management office of Lang Son Provinces Huu Lung District and shouted at rangers and traffic police who had seized 46 logs from them two days earlier, Vietnam News Agency reported.
Nong Quang Dai, vice chief of Huu Lung Forest Management, said the district has been a hot spot for illegal logging activity for years.
He said the loggers use chainsaws to cut down trees and carry them using bicycles, motorbikes, trucks and even three-wheeled vehicles intended for use by war invalids.
Dai said the 6,700-hectare Huu Lien Forest contained many valuable trees and some residents hired to protect the forest have conspired with illegal loggers to cut down trees.
He also said local authorities in Huu Lien Commune had agreed to protect 4,000 hectares of forest for VND100,000 (US$5.62) per hectare, but they in turn handed the job over to residents for VND90,000 per hectare, keeping a small fee for themselves and paying no attention to the protection work.
In the first quarter this year, Huu Lung park rangers unearthed 220 cases of illegal logging, and confiscated 55 cubic meters of logs and several vehicles.
Nguyen Thanh Ha, a forest inspector in Phuoc Son District in Quang Nam Province, said a recent investigation from April 28 to May 6 led to a seizure of 42.2 cubic meters of illegal logs.
Since early this year, district authorities have busted a number of illegal logging rings and seized nearly 100 cubic meters of wood.
In Son La Province, park rangers of the Xuan Nha Forest confiscated 28 cubic meters of logs and several chainsaws used for illegal logging during investigations conducted in the first quarter.
Trinh Xuan Hoa, chief park ranger of the 16,000-hectare Xuan Nha Forest, said his team had recently apprehended five illegal loggers and the violators would face a criminal trial soon.
Mangroves especially fragile
Experts have warned of the negative impacts on a community when mangrove forests, which form along the banks of rivers, are cleared to make fish farms, according to a Tuoi Tre report.
Professor Phan Nguyen Hong, who has been researching mangrove forests for 40 years, said Vietnams swamplands have been cleared by locals wanting to make quick profits by selling firewood and breeding fish.
"We have just over 150,000 hectares of mangrove forests left, just one third of the original area", he said. "Tens of thousands of hectares have been cleared every year to raise shrimp".
"The deforestation has damaged the coastal ecosystem and environmental impacts will gradually cause disease for the shrimp", Hong added.
Mai Sy Tuan, head of the Hanoi National University of Educations Biology Faculty, said mangrove forests help prevent soil erosion thanks to their thick tree roots and by slowing down river currents.
Vu Doan Thai of Hai Phong University said the mangrove forest in Do Son Districts Bang La Commune has reduced in size by between 70 and 80 percent because of strong waves from the sea that flood the area during storms.
With the recent onset of the rainy season, impending storms are likely to amplify the destruction caused by deforestation.
In 2005, the Washi storm hit Hai Phong and broke a dike system at Cat Hai Commune where there was no protective mangrove forest. The dike at neighboring Bang La Commune, made from soil, was unharmed thanks to forest protection.