Forest protection team members meet to discuss their work. — Photo baogiaothong.vn
NGHỆ AN — Tourists who come to Tương Dương District in Nghệ An Province can't help but be overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of the forest with tens of millions of Tương Dương Lagerstroemia tomentosa trees. They are protected by a volunteer called Vi Chính Nghĩa and his grandson Vi Võ Tuấn.
"There was a scientific team that inspected and concluded that this Lagerstroemia tomentosa forest is between 300 and 350 years old," said Vi Võ Tuấn, volunteer group leader. "That being said, we can see the mind and scope of Mr Nghĩa and his predecessors."
"In the past, the National Highway 7 was not as wide as this, but still very narrow. These trees are where Nghĩa built a shack to protect the forest. At that time, some people said the forest belonged to the gods, not him. Then someone asked Nghĩa what he had been working for. He said for goodwill."
In 1964, Tương Dương State Forest Enterprises asked Nghệ An Province People's Committee about exploiting the forest. At that time, Vi Chính Nghĩa was the Secretary of Tương Dương Party Committee.
At the end of his term of office, Nghĩa was assigned to be the Deputy Head of the Ethnic Minority Committee of Nghệ An Province. Although he worked far away, he still worried about the fate of more than 70 hectares of trees in the forest.
Whenever he went to work or returned to his hometown, he encouraged people to try their best to protect the forest. When he retired in 1988, Nghĩa lived with his family in Quang Thịnh Village, Tam Đình Commune.
Looking at the forest being cut down by loggers, his heart was torn apart, and Nghĩa asked the commune and district to let him protect the forest. He did not want to lose the forest associated with his homeland, so he wrote an application to maintain the woods with his relatives, which was approved.
To keep his promise, Nghĩa asked the district for a small piece of land in the middle of the forest next to Highway 7 to build a hut. Every day, he walks in the forest to patrol every tree.
"In the beginning, I discovered a few violators and reported them to the rangers to be severely punished. The forest bandits were terrified and did not dare to approach the forest," he said.
Nghĩa also went to the families in the village to raise people's awareness of protecting the forest together. Thanks to timely information from Nghĩa and the people, the police and forest rangers chased loggers out of the forest.
Since then, tens of millions of Lagerstroemia tomentosa trees have remained intact and grown greener day by day.
According to the people here, not only Nghĩa but the Thái ethnic people in Tam Đình Commune, especially the people of Quang Thịnh Village, have long had a tradition of protecting forests.
Since 1989, Quang Thịnh Village has had regulations to protect the forest.
In 2007, when people burned their fields for farming, causing a fire in danger of spreading to the forest, all the people of Quang Thịnh Village pulled together to put out the fire, working all night long.
After 20 years of living in the forest to protect it, Nghĩa handed over the job to the local government due to his old age. Tam Đình Commune then assigned this duty to the head of the commune forestry committee.
However, the area is so large that the head of the department alone could not take care of it all. A year later, the village had to select two people to patrol and guard daily.
During this time, the Lagerstroemia tomentosa forest in Tam Đình was approved by Nghệ An People's Committee to convert from a production forest to a special-use forest.
From the original area of more than 70 hectares, the forest was expanded to 241 hectares with a strict protection zone of 53.85 hectares, an ecological restoration zone of 141.82 hectares, and a buffer zone of 45.93 hectares.
Because of the expansion of the area, Quang Thịnh Village decided to establish a group in 2016 to protect the forest. The group consists of 11 members who are all tree lovers.
The team was divided into groups of three, patrolling day and night to protect the forest. If the forest is damaged, the team on duty that day must be responsible.
Vi Võ Tuấn said: "Patrolling and protecting the forest is hard on weekdays, and even harder on rainy days.
"The mountain road is slippery, but for the safety of the forest left by our forefathers, we encourage each other to keep moving. On rainy days, if the trees fall and block Highway 7, everyone has to cut down a tree at night to clear the road.
"Some days, by the time I get home, I look down at my calves, and it's full of ticks, and each one is full of blood. Protecting forests is hard, but in return, people's awareness is increasing day by day, and no one even thinks about cutting down trees anymore. Everyone in the family tells each other to protect the forest for their children."
Recently, because of the beauty and majesty of the forest, Tương Dương District decided to build a landscape observation station and a walking path through the woods for tourists to visit. The constructions have not impacted the ecosystem.
Moreover, the people of Tam Đình also asked to have lamp posts put up on both sides of the road through the forest and set up a rest station there to introduce culinary and brocade products from the hands of talented local Thái ethnic women.
"This approach helps people create more income while keeping the forest effectively. Because when many people are present, criminals will not dare to go into the forest to do bad things. The presence of tourists is also a way to monitor the duties of the forest protection team and local forces," said Tuấn. — VNS