CENTRAL REGION — Forest ranger officials and residents in the Central region said the protection of forests turned over to communities could not be properly managed due to shortcomings in policies.
They noted that residents given forests do not have actual rights to protect these forests, while forest rangers often believe it is no longer their responsibility to protect these forests.
Following Code 88 under Vietnamese Law of Forest Protection and Development 2004, forest areas that are located near communities in a buffer zone could be handed over to communities, organisations or residents, who are responsible for protection and development of the forest areas.
Many forest areas have been given to communities and residents around the country, as officials seek to comply with the law.
According to Nguyen Dai Anh Tuan, deputy director of Thua Thien – Hue Province’s Department of Forest Rangers, there are many issues that need to be reconsidered in the policy of turning forests over to local communities.
“Ownership means possession, the right to make decisions and right to use the property. Yet, communities that own the given forest areas do not have the right to make decisions about their forest property,” he said.
“Meanwhile, household owners have full ownership, but they don’t prefer that because the areas given to them were poor forests and there is no government support or loans for them to use for replanting.
“For protection, in case of illegal logging, the residents don’t have the rights to protect their forest property, to capture loggers, and to keep records of logging. This makes them fail in fighting against illegal loggers,” said Nguyen Dai Anh Tuan.
Tran Thanh, a resident in Son Thuy Commune in the province’s mountainous A Luoi District, said he caught illegal loggers many times in the past. “But I failed to prove that I am the owner of the forest area,” he added.
“In some cases, I contacted forest rangers, but I didn’t have the right to hold the loggers until the rangers came, and let them leave freely with my timber,” noted Thanh.
Nguyen Duc, another resident of Hung Loc Commune in the province’s mountainous Nam Dong District, said he spent 3,000 days taking care of the forest area that he was given. But he earned nothing from the forest.
In Thua Thien – Hue, since 2008 a total of 31,000 natural forest areas have been turned over to communities and residents in the districts of A Luoi, Nam Dong, Phu Loc and Phong Dien.
The situation is quite similar in central Quang Nam Province, where many forest areas in mountainous districts of Dong Giang and Tay Giang have been logged to make way for rubber plantations.
According to Le Hoang Son, director of Saola Reserve Zone located in Tay Giang District, forest protection has been done very well in his zone, but illegal logging continued in the zone’s buffer areas, where forests are under residents’ ownership.
Meanwhile, an official in the district’s natural resources division said owners of the forest areas kept trees in the rear, while they logged inner trees of the forest to plant rubber. “This could bring them some profits from the given forest, so they dared to do it,” he said.
Tuan of Thua Thien – Hue ranger department urged quick and thorough consideration of the policy to assure improved protection of forests.
The latest case that reflects the weaknesses of community ownership occurred early this month in Vinh Linh District in central Quang Tri Province. Hundreds of hectares of preventive forest in Vinh Ha Commune were illegally logged, but related agencies could not determine who held ownership of the area.
The forest ranger division in the district said they had consulted local authorities to protect the given forest lands, noting that those residents who hold the ownership should be responsible for protection of their forest.
But according to the district’s natural resources division, no organizations or residents have received ownership of forest land in Vinh Ha. Turning over ownership has not been done clearly, an official said. “The total area given to Vinh Linh Youth Regeneration Village, a youth organisation, showed in the document is 8,600ha, but they received only 300ha, in reality, he said.