|Giving trees: The trai forests are attractive to illegal loggers because their timber is rare and precious, but they are also invaluable tools to prevent land erosion. — VNS Photos Huynh Van My
by Huynh Van My
Forest rangers at the Phu Ninh Protected Forest in the central province of Quang Nam take pride in the vast lush forests they have devoted their lives to protecting.
The forest grows many kinds of precious timber trees, especially those called trai, or Tembusu, according to Director of the Forest Management Board Nguyen Xuan Phuoc, MA.
The Tembusu (or Fagraea fragrans) is listed as a vulnerable and endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
"The tree produces very hard wood that can last for over 100 years, particularly since termites and weevils cannot eat this kind of wood. People always use it for flooring their homes," Phuoc said, adding that other parts of the tree are used in herbal remedies.
The decoction of the bark is used as a febrifuge, and the decoction of the twigs and leaves is used to treat dysentery.
Many Tembusu trees grow on local islets, including Su, Rung Dinh, and Tuan Tra surrounding Phu Ninh Lake, one of the country's largest irrigation works, located seven kilometres to the west of the province's Tam Ky City.
"Most of the Tembusu in the area often have a bole of only 35-40cm in diameter because they are naturally regenerated trees. Before they formed the lake, local authorities had allowed people to chop down all the trees in the area in 1979," explained the Phu Ninh Protected Forest Management Board's Tu Yen Forest Ranger Station Director Hoang Ngoc Anh.
The Tembusu trees have been destroyed by illegal loggers in recent years, according to Anh.
"After felling a tall Tembusu tree, poachers only take away part of its trunk and leave the rest. It often takes the tree 40-50 years of growth before it is considered profitable to be cut down. Therefore, we are always filled with pity whenever we discover a Tembusu tree has been chopped down," Anh said, adding that local forest rangers have faced many difficulties in protecting the Tembusu and other precious timber in the forest.
|Deep-rooted problem: Tu Yen Forest Ranger Station Director Hoang Ngoc Anh examines trees that have been illegally cut down.
A shortage of staff is among the challenges facing local authorities in protecting the forest. In addition, the lake has an area of 23,400ha, and illegal loggers often carry the timber across the water at night, making it difficult for local rangers to catch them.
To avoid illegal logging, local rangers have redoubled their efforts, making rounds of the forest not only during the day but also at night.
"To prevent illegal loggers from spotting us, we hide our boat before making our rounds in the forests. We spend hours patrolling at night or laying an ambush overnight despite the danger of encountering snakes and insects in the forest because poachers often carry off the wood at this time. Yet, the loggers also take advantage of the darkness to flee and leave the wood when they are caught by us," Anh said.
Illegal logging takes place intermittently in the area, making it even more difficult to protect the precious timber.
"The Phu Ninh Protected Forest Management Board even conducted raids on local carpenters' shops to find and seize wood that has been illegally acquired," Anh added.
Besides this, research on selection, propagation and cultivation techniques for the Tembusu was conducted by the forest management board and submitted to higher authorities in late April.
"The protected forest is suffering from the threat of destruction, which will surely affect its protective ability as well as its capacity to adjust and maintain the water levels of the Phu Ninh lake. Therefore, it is essential to protect and develop native plants in the region including the Tembusu to keep the forest green," Phuoc said.
"Currently, the country has only conducted a few researcheson propagation and cultivation techniques to plant the Tembusu in protected forests. So, if our research is effective, we will be able to widely propagate the trees and contribute to the stable protection and development of these forests," Phuoc added. — VNS