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Nature lover listens to the forest's pain
Publication Date : 31-07-2013
For illegal loggers, the ancient Burretiodendron hsienmu trees are a source of money, but for villagers, they are their soul
The glowing red sun slowly sets behind the forests of Na Hang, casting its final rays through the over 100-year-old trees in northern Vietnam's Tuyen Quang Province.
Phung Van Pham, a 55-year-old man from the Dao ethnic group, drags his feet out of the forest after a two-day patrol.
He still looks fresh, despite the long hours, but a centipede bite to his left foot is hampering him.
"It doesn't hurt. I already cleaned it with water caltrops in the forest. Now, I just need the saliva of a chicken (a traditional medicine to cure the bite)."
He smiles broadly and softly rubs the injury which is surrounded by a number of old scars.
He's used to the perils of the forest, he says.
Pham is not a forest ranger or a hunter, but simply a Dao farmer who has spent more than 10 years voluntarily protecting the forest from illegal loggers and saving hundreds of ancient Burretiodendron Hsienmu trees.
The 40,000-ha forest is situated in Na Hang District and covers four communes.
Khong Van Quang, deputy head of Na Hang Forest Ranger Department, says the department's 43 officers are not able to patrol every corner of the forest, so they need people like Pham.
They are the eyes and ears of the forest rangers, and they help us to fight illegal logging, he says.
Pham is not paid for patrolling the forest, but he spends days monitoring various areas before returning home to tend to his farm.
Pham says: "The sound of saws and the behaviour of the birds tell me where the forest is being hurt by loggers."
When the birds' nests are threatened, their usual sweet melodies change to calls of alarm, he says.
Using this knowledge, he tracks down illegal loggers and informs the forest rangers of what's going on.
Quang says that Pham understands the forest because it's part of his life, and forest rangers are always available to respond to his reports.
Thanks to his work, dozens of illegal loggers have been caught and punished, but loggers are becoming more devious due to the potential profits they can make.
These trees are some of the most precious in this forest because they are centuries old with an average diameter of several metres, he says.
Pham has been targeted by illegal loggers in the past when they realised what he was doing. "I once slipped down a gully and hit my head. I was unconscious until one of my villagers found me."
They also beat him and tried to destroy his house, he reveals.
Quang says that the forest is fraught with danger such as snakes and insects, but none more so than the illegal loggers.
Pham says: "Witnessing them to chop down trees and smelling the resin hurts me more than the injuries on my feet."
"I was born in the forest, grew up with the forest, was fed by the forest and protected by it from storms. It has become a part of my body."
For the loggers, the Burretiodendron hsienmu tree is just a source of money. However, for villagers, it is their soul and source of life.
He says the forest has a lot of valuable and rare animals such as Rhinopithecus roxellana, and Rachypithecus delacouri. Besides the ancient trees, the fruit, herbs, mushrooms, honey bees and orchids have fed villagers for generations.
After years of protecting the forest alone, Pham decided to try and persuade his villagers to join him. At village gatherings and parties, he talks with his neighbours about the stories of the nature's anger at people's destruction.
Ban Van Huy, a villager says: "Pham helps us to understand that storms, floods and droughts are the consequences of our destruction of the forests."
"It is our children that will have to shoulder the burden when trees or animals become extinct."
Some of the villagers have started to join Pham on his patrols, and they've each been designated a specific area to monitor, he says.
Quang says that thanks to these efforts, forest protection groups including local people and forest rangers have been formed since the beginning of this year in Pham's village. Each group is allocated an area of forest to patrol, protect and reforest. Forest rangers also live in these communities.
The forest used to make easy pickings for illegal loggers, but now the tables have been turned.
Five loggers were caught in the act last week, and 500 cases have been uncovered so far this year, according to Quang.
Pham is sitting on the edge of the forest that is now surrounded by darkness.
"I can't remember how many loggers I have caught, but I do remember the times when I was helpless to do anything and the hurt it caused me.
"When the forest is free from the screams of the saws and the birds, and we can smell the flowers and leaves, then peace will be restored."
Forest exploitation prompts further crackdown plans
The latest statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development released on Thursday showed the country has more than 10.2 millions hectares of natural forests which are mainly located in mountainous northern and Central Highlands provinces.
Last year, the government allowed 200,000 cubic metres of wood to be legally collected from the forests, five times lower than in 2000.
However, in the first six months of this year, more than 510 hectares of the forests have been illegally cut down and destroyed.
Deputy Prime Minister Hong Trung Hai has asked the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to tighten the protection and exploitation of natural forests.
Among the plans, relevant authorities are considering about the plan of suspending the collection of wood from the natural forests. Measures to supervise factories have been worked out to prevent consumption of illegally cut wood.