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Trees keep falling while authorities bicker   2008-09-25 - Viet Nam News

Watershed forests of the Huong River in central Viet Nam have suffered rampant destruction over the last few years, but authorities are passing the buck on the failure to take punitive measures.

Forest rangers confiscate smuggled logs in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue. About 231 of 11,000ha of forest has been destroyed in the province’s Huong Tra District in the past four years.

An estimated 231.6 out of 11,306ha of forests have been destroyed in Hue Province’s Huong Tra District during the last four years.

In 1993, the Hue People’s Committee had designated a team of forestry experts to manage the protected watershed forests of Huong River in the district.

However, many residents have logged trees in the protected area to augment their income and improve living standards. The destroyed area includes a buffer area of 94.9 ha maintained to prevent soil erosion along the embankment and coastal areas, and act as windbreaks in sandy areas.

Local authorities say that although the residents had been fined several times, they continued to destroy the watershed forests.

The destroyed area has increased from 82.7ha of forest in 2006 to 231.6ha in 2008.

Admitting that he had cleared the protected area to plant acacia trees, Nguyen Tu Quan says he did it because of "poor management from the local authority as well as forest management team".

Quan had been fined many times but he has persisted with the illegal activity.

As many as 100 households living in or near destroyed forest areas have participated in illegal activity. However, they all claim to be unaware it was illegal.

"With no land to farm, we have to exploit the forest to earn money," a villager said.

In fact, most forest area in Thua Thien-Hue is under the management of State-owned farms or offices while local villagers face a shortage of farm land.

Cao Vuong Thien of Hong Tien Commune illegally cleared 16ha of the forest in 2006 – 2007, but the provincial authorities have not taken due action against him.

The problem of illegal logging has increased as the management team denied they were to blame.

Over the last four years, no violators have been punished.

"The punishment is the responsibility of relevant agencies, not our duty", said Nguyen Van Vuong, deputy head of the management team. "Our responsibilities are only forest management and protection".

Meanwhile, Nguyen Xuan Ty, Vice Chairman of Huong Tra District’s People’s Committee said although the majority of illegal loggers were actually residents of the district, action against them must be the duty of the management team.

The violators are now fined just VND100,000 (US$6.06) each, not enough to deter them from continuing to fell the trees.

The 231.6ha of destroyed forest in Huong Tra District including protected and cultivated forest was under the management board of Huong River’s watershed forest.

Also according to the chief of the management board, Nguyen Huu Cu, a main cause of rampant destruction was that the board have no power to punish violators while the local people’s committee only dishes out light punishments.

Nguyen Van Anh, deputy head of Thua Thien Hue Province’s Forest Protection Sub – Department, told the Nguoi Lao Dong (The Labourer) newspaper that both forest protection and management duties had been assigned to the management team.

Therefore, it was responsible for the inaction on deforestation, he said.

However, local authorities are looking for the most sensible way of settling the problem. Current measures to demolish violated areas aiming at restoring original forest seem unreasonable.

Many households who took out bank loans to plant acacia trees on destroyed forest can harvest in the next two years.

Binh Dien Commune’s People’s Committee chairman Nguyen Dai Hoa said if local authorities demolish violated areas, these households would fall into massive debt.

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