Covering an area of more than 21,000 ha, facing the Gam river, Na Hang special-use forest, located in the uppermost Na Hang District of north-eastern Tuyen Quang Province, is ranked the 223rd most diverse eco-system in the world , according to the district’s Forest Ranger Department.
The forest is home to some of the country’s rare and precious trees, several of which are thought to be at least a thousand years old. Locals here have long had a strong attachment to the forest. Preserving the tree-occupied area and ensuring locals’ livelihoods are two urgent tasks for Khong Van Quang, head of Na Hang Forest Ranger Department and other forest rangers and local authorities.
Local forest caretakers
Quang said that the forest he and his colleagues are controlling is cut into different parts by a hydro-electric reservoir. Geographical conditions have facilitated illegal loggers carrying timbers on the waterways.
In recent years, forest protection in Na Hang District has improved. In the first 10 months of this year, the unit has uncovered 82 illegally logging cases, decreasing from 102 cases from the same period last year, the unit’s annual report reveals.
Most of the cases are illegally chopping down small chunks of timber for fuel or construction. Selling wood can bring big profits, so some lumberjacks disrespect the law and commit illegal actions.
A lack of human resources is a big problem for the forest conservationists. Currently, the unit only has 37 officers. On average, each forest ranger has to control more than 600 ha of forest, though the Government regulates one ranger per 500ha of special-use forest.
In spite of limited human resources, the efforts to preserve forest bio-diversity are fueled by the support of locals.
“We regard each local as a forest caretaker as locals are the eyes and the ears of forest rangers. Many have helped our officers discover illegal logging cases,” said Quang.
As locals play a vital role in forest protection campaigns, raising locals’ awareness is key. During the first ten months of this year, the branch has conducted more than 40 communication campaigns on environment education to more than 2,330 people. The campaigns aim to raise awareness of forest rangers, students and villagers about bio-diversity, and fire safety.
Since late 2014, the Forest Ranger Unit decided to make use of human resources from local authorities. Head of communes in Na Hang District’s Son Phu Ward signed contracts to collaborate with the unit to regularly patrol the forest and report any problems to the forest rangers.
Trieu Tin Phin, head of Son Phu Ward, said that his advantage is knowing the terrain very well.
“We are now not only administrative leaders but also people involved in the fight against illegal logging along with forest rangers,” Phin said.
Potential for tourism
The mission to protect the special-use forest and bio-diversity has become increasingly significant as Na Hang natural conservation area has been invested in hopes of becoming a tourist destination.
Between January 2011 and September 2014 Na Hang the tourism site welcomed 273,650 holiday-makers with nearly 1,500 international tourists, according to statistics from the Forest Ranger Department.
At Na Hang conservation area, tourists can explore the primeval forest and take boats around the hydroelectricity reservoir, and in the future, experience traditions and customs from ethnic groups, Nguyen Quoc Viet, member of management board of Na Hang nature conservation area said.
“Na Hang is still like a pretty girl whose potential beauty has yet to be widely known. We are looking to integrate forest preservation into eco-tourism. That means developing projects of the tourism site that will not damage regional natural beauty, and impact on animals and plants here,” he said.
To keep soil from eroding, the tourism site’s management board has planned to plant trees as well as collect garbage.
Na Hang District has also opened hygiene, room service and cooking training courses for locals who want to work at the tourism site. By doing this, Quang hopes to encourage locals to stop chopping down trees to sell.