Life Life

30/11/2017 - 17:06

Thanh Tan “squad” of forest guards

From illegal forest operators, they have become "forest rangers" with a strong sense of responsibility to protect and cultivate the remaining forest areas.

Along with the zoning for cultivation, the "squad" also coordinates with forest rangers to handle violations

The beginning

Since the allocation of forest to the community of Thanh Tan (Phong Son commune, Phong Dien district), and thanks to a good protection, the reserves of timber have grown significantly. In Thanh Tan, a part of the forest guard “squad” used to be the households previously engaged in illegal exploitation of forest products and charcoal. Mr. Phan Dung, a forest ranger in Thanh Tan said that in order to fully understand the meanings of the activities of the Thanh Tan community in the work of forest protection, it is necessary to know the history of this land. The households participating in the “squad” of forest guards used to be Phong Son villagers, who had moved to different places during the wartime. In the peacetime, with the policy of migration and exploitation of wasteland, they have returned to the mountainous Thanh Tan and lived on the forest.

The forest sections destroyed in the wartime and the impacts of human exploitation have turned the natural forest in Thanh Tan into a poor forest with only shrubs. Formerly, due to lack of fuel, these villagers came back to the forest to cut trees and burn wood for charcoal. Since then, "armies" living on the forest have formed. However, as mentioned by the households participating in the Thanh Tan community forest protection group, on exploiting the forest they always have to pay it back. From illegal forest operators, they have become “forest rangers" with a strong sense of responsibility to protect and cultivate the remaining forest areas.

Mr. Dung confided that it was a long story to make the foresters "rethink", with so many difficulties. There would be no success without the "hands" of the authorities. In 2003, the pilot project on forest allocation to households in Thanh Tan for protection and cultivation combined with benefits from exploitation of secondary forest products was launched. But the protection of the poor forest areas in Thanh Tan village has actually worked since 2011 when the Provincial People's Committee decided to allocate forests to the community there.

Recalling the past, Mr. Le Dinh (Thanh Tan village), a member of the forest protection group said: "At that time, many other foresters and I had to live on the forest, cut firewood for charcoal. Then, in the innovation of the country, our family economy got stable. Acacia and rubber trees began to "come" to the locals here. Pressure on forests has also decreased. Since the establishment of the community of forest guards, the locals have benefited from the controlled exploitation of forest products and the funds from forest environmental services, and they have become more aware and responsible."

Mr. Tran Thuoc, Head of the Thanh Tan community forest group, shared that most of the households in this community had their rubber forest in the ​​Thai gorge area. Those who live on the forest now become the "eyes and ears" to protect it.

The places with war-devastated forests like Trien Tranh gorge, Lo Me hill, Dong Keo market, Truc Voi hill are now "imprinted" with the footsteps of the forest guard "squad". "It is not rare that the forest guards get wounded, bitten by snakes and their hands broken by falling trees. At these times, besides the care and supports from each other, there are timely supports from the local authorities and the forest ranger department," said Mr. Tran Thuoc.

The forest patrol of Thanh Tan community is very arduous

Keeping the forest for the next generations

Head of Thanh Tan village, Mr. Nguyen Minh Tien said that keeping the forest was keeping his own house, which was for the children. Most of the 156-hectare-forest area zoned for protection was in the upstream. If they were well protected, the forest not only gave the people the opportunity to exploit secondary forest products for livelihoods and the benefits from controlled timber harvesting, but it also functioned as a "shield" to protect the villagers. Mr. Tien analyzed: "The well-protected community forest will keep the water, reduce the flow for Huong Dien hydropower plant, and reduce the erosion in downstream forests. Most of them are the local people’s economic forests with hundreds of hectares of acacia and melaleuca trees. The community forest also contributes to the restoration of the ecology and biodiversity."

The households in the community are those who are well aware of this. "The forest will be exhausted after being exploited. Our descendants have settled here. If the forest dies, they will have nothing to live on. Keeping the forest today means giving our descendants a ‘saving’," said Mr. Phan Son, a member of the forest protection squad.

The area of ​​156 hectares was allocated to 39 households for cultivation under the management of the local authorities and the forest ranger department. When the forest was allocated, the  timber reserves were only 40 cubic meters. Now, they have grown to 60 cubic meters. "The additional number of 20 cubic meters seems small, but it is a process of changing awareness and actions in the protection of the poor forest areas, and also the sweat and blood of the foresters,” Mr. Phan Dung concluded. 39 households are divided into four teams and carry out  the patrol and forest protection 2-3 times a month, or 4-5 times if required. The patrol is planned by the Thanh Tan Community Forest Management Board every month, and each team reports on the status of the forest to the local authorities as well as the forest rangers in the area after the end of the patrol.

"In order to have a high consensus, the Forest Management Board has provided a specific guidance in the areas zoned for cultivation and allowed to exploit the secondary forest products. The propaganda and raising people's awareness are considered as important steps in helping to protect forests for the community. In addition, the allocation of funds from the payment of forest environment is also strictly controlled, ensuring the equity," he claimed.

One of the most visible effects is the recognition of Thanh Tan palm-leaf hat-making village with the participation of more than 100 households.  Hat making has provided the livelihoods for the local people. The materials for making hats conical hats are exploited and protected according to specific plans for each area. This has helped the craft village develop, stabilizing the local households’ life.

Story and photos: Ha Nguyen