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Gov't mulls forest closures as illegal loggers loom

Update: December, 03/2012 - 09:06

According to a recent project draft for Viet Nam's handling of natural forest exploitation from 2013-20, these forests could be closed from as early as 2013 in a bid to stop illegal logging.

More than 2,730 of these cases of illegality were recorded in the first nine months of this year, according to official statistics.

Viet Nam has nearly 10.3 million hectares of natural forests with an estimated 862 million cubic metres of timber. But only five percent of this land is considered "rich," with more than 250 cubic metres of wood per hectare.

On average, from 1990 to 2010, forest was lost at a rate of 15,000 ha per year. Forest cover was estimated at roughly 40 per cent in 2011.

Viet Nam News spoke to the experts, weighing up the pros and cons of closing natural forests.

Ha Cong Tuan, deputy minister of agriculture and planning


Ha Cong Tuan
The Prime Minister has instructed the Ministry to consider whether the situation calls for the closing of all natural forests. We are looking at the effects that this could have on different stakeholders as well as how it would influence the economy, the livelihoods of local people and the development of natural forests. Currently, the decision has not been finally made.

There are lots of reasons behind the need to close natural forests, as exploitation of them has led to quality degradation.

Secondly, we are currently allowing the exploitation of natural forests according to assigned quotas. This has led to many unexpected and corrupt practices, such as the extraction of wood from prohibited places and people using the method called "licence transferring" to cut down a large area of natural forests.

As I mentioned earlier, we have not made a final decision on the issue and are still analysing how much effect closing natural forests would have on halting illegal logging. We are also looking at policies that encourage wood processing at planted forests and boosting our research about restoring natural forests as well.

The Ministry will present these consultations to the Government soon.

Nguyen Duc Son, director of the Con Cuong Forestry LLC, Nghe An Province


Nguyen Duc Son
I suspect that if this solution is implemented then disintegrating forestry companies will further exploit natural resources. As the head of the company that is responsible for managing and protecting 7,500 hectares of natural forests, I don't think we should close them right away but need to come up with a better plan.

Protecting natural forests has become an incredibly tough task.

Forestry companies have to spend quite some amount of money to hire protection staff. This fund is drawn from profits gained from natural forest exploitation. The Government annually provides support to protect some forests at the level of VND200,000 per hectare but that is not enough.

If the State would provide additional funding to manage and protect natural forests, we also have to take into account the current difficult economic situation, especially for the poorer provinces.

According to Resolution 28 of the Politburo and the Government Decision No. 20, some plantations have been able to hand over their operations to forestry companies. For this policy, we have not yet thought about how these forestry companies could have to adapt if natural forests are closed.

In addition, the source of supply for domestic wood would be cut off. At the same time, demand continues rising. Imported and planted woods have not been able to replace domestic natural forests in importance. If these were restricted then they would become more valuable, prices would go up and make them even more attractive for illegal wood trading and logging. The fight against illegal logging would become much more severe.

Nguyen Dinh Xuan, Director of Lo Go–Xa Mat National Park in southern Tay Ninh Province


Nguyen Dinh Xuan
The province has closed local natural forests for 20 years and we have seen good results. The amount of stolen timber has been very low, just some trees being illegally chopped down by local residents to build their houses.

In my opinion, it is necessary to close natural forests nationwide to suspend their exploitation. It is imperative to close natural forests in some localities where they are dwindling, and thus threatening wild species and weakening the protective role of the forests.

However, we need to be clear that closing natural forests means suspending wood exploitation only temporarily. They should not be closed forever. For example, we can close them for five years and re-open when they have recovered and are ready to be sustainably exploited. At present, our natural forests have been excessively exploited due to poor management.

For this policy to be implemented effectively, I think we need to stop issuing permission for companies to exploit natural forests and stop converting forest-land for other purposes such as rubber plantations, hydro-power plants and golf courses.

I don't think this would have a negative effect on our wood exporting activities. Most of our markets are in the US and Europe, where they have strict requirements in regards to timber origin. Currently we import 80 per cent of raw-material timber in order to process products made of timber for export.

In Tay Ninh Province, as we have closed natural forests for many years any household that cannot provide evidence of the origin of their timber will have it seized.

I think the Government could compensate affected stake-holders by supporting them to find other sources to earn a living. The fund can come from payments to locals by companies for forest environmental services or from carbon credit income.

Northern Son La Province and Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands are two localities that have done well in terms of collecting payment for forest environmental services from local hydropower plants, tap water supplying companies and tourism areas.

Do Trong Hoan, REALU (Reducing Emissions from All Land Uses) Project Manager, World Agoforestry Centre in Ha Noi


Do Trong Hoan
According to our recent studies, deforestation and degradation of natural forests in Viet Nam have been mostly caused by agricultural expansion and selective logging. Although a net increase of forest cover has been reported, forest has been continuously cut. At sub-national level, the Central Highlands have been a major ‘hot spot' for converting forest to agriculture in Vietnam.

Closing natural forests to prevent human intervention is probably a good last resort if the damage caused is greater than the ability of the government to repair it; however, experiences throughout the world, show that when forest management works against people, e.g. through exclusion and eviction, there can be serious negative consequences.

If the forest has to be closed and logging ended, then Viet Nam has to find other sources to meet its demands for forest timber and related products and services. Otherwise, strict prohibition nationwide is unlikely to be feasible. Forest conservation in protected areas is a good example.

Although special use forests such as National Parks or Natural Reserves are strictly protected by the law, illegal logging in these areas has still been detected nationwide. In many cases, protection and special use forests have been even converted legally to be used for other purposed such as the establishment of hydropower plants.

Therefore, attention should also be paid to the fact that combating deforestation requires a cross-sectoral approach that better addresses external issues rather than a single-forestry sector approach only.

However, closing natural forests may be a must in certain cases or some regions, especially where deforestation and degradation are serious and could severely impact on ecosystems and human society. Thorough studies should be carried out before realising this policy to make sure the right places benefit in a proper manner.

Failures in forest management can be due to complex factors, requiring complex and varying solutions. Forest management requires a balanced approach, that is the use of rules and incentives coupled with continuous education and capacity-development. Rules alone are inadequate when forest people have few or no other livelihood options, or where illegal activities are perpetuated by corruption and bribery.

Capacity is needed to enforce forest management rules, and people must have the right incentives to co-operate with authorities, and to pursue their livelihoods within the framework of sustainable forest management. Continuous education and capacity development is needed to promote a shared understanding of forest values, the environmental services and goods they provide, and their value to society as a whole. — VNS

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