Vietnam has lost 50 percent of its original primary forests in the last 50 years. Only 10 percent of the countries forest are still untouched by logging or clearing. In the Dac Lac Province the forest cover has been reduced from 70 percent to 15 percent in less than 25 years. Logging and slash and burn agriculture are mainly to blame. Illegal logging is a problem in Vietnam Large areas of scrubland and graasslands called tranh have emerged where deforestation has occurred.

AFP reported: “According to several estimates, 60 percent of Vietnam's forest cover was destroyed during the Vietnam War which ended in 1975. Half of the remainder has vanished since then, thanks to human activity. Households foraging for firewood, poachers, slash-and-burn cultivators and rapid urbanisation as well as industry's insatiable hunger have been eating away at what was left. Government figures show that more than 2,000 hectares (about 5,000 acres) of forests were destroyed last year alone in Vietnam. The authorities are waging a losing battle against powerful marauders.[Source: Agence France Presse, February 18, 2006]

Mongabay reported: Ravaged by years of war which brought napalm, millions of tons of explosives and land mines, and intense fighting throughout forest areas, Vietnam's rainforests have been seriously damaged. The use of chemical defoliants during the war was particularly destructive and some areas still show signs of damage. The government has blamed deforestation for worsening soil erosion and floods—though the flood link is tenuous and inundations are more likely the result of poor government policies regarding land settlement than actual forest loss.[Source: Mongabay *~*]

Today, Vietnam's breakneck economic growth has taken a heavy toll on its natural forests. Between 1990 and 2005, the country lost a staggering 78 percent of its primary forests, leaving it with only 85,000 hectares of old-growth forest (0.66 percent of its forest cover or 0.26 percent of its total land cover). The total loss of forest (38 percent during that period) has been moderate, but still is among the highest in the world. The good news is that deforestation appears to be slowing in Vietnam. Since the close of the 1990s, average annual deforestation rates have fallen by 18 percent. *~*

Much of Vietnam's forest clearing results from commercial agriculture and subsistence activities, notably small-scale agriculture and fuelwood collection. The government has tried to stem forest loss by promoting a massive reforestation project which was initiated in 1986. Since 1990, the area covered by plantations has expanded from 967,000 hectares to more than 2.7 million hectares. Mining is also a threat to Vietnam's forest, but on a much smaller scale. Agricultural fires can spread into forest areas during particularly dry years, especially under el Niño conditions. *~*

Vietnam Forest Information and Data

According to the U.N. FAO, 44.5 percent or about 13,797,000 ha of Viet Nam is forested, according to FAO. Of this 0.6 percent (80,000) is classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse and carbon-dense form of forest. Viet Nam has 3,512,000 ha of planted forest. Change in Forest Cover: Between 1990 and 2010, Viet Nam gained an average of 221,700 ha or 2.37 percent per year. In total, between 1990 and 2010, Viet Nam gained 47.4 percent of its forest cover, or around 4,434,000 ha. [Source: Mongabay *~*]

Viet Nam's forests contain 992 million metric tons of carbon in living forest biomass. Biodiversity and Protected Areas: Viet Nam has some 1534 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Center. Of these, 8.2 percent are endemic, meaning they exist in no other country, and 7.9 percent are threatened. Viet Nam is home to at least 10500 species of vascular plants, of which 12.0 percent are endemic. 3.4 percent of Viet Nam is protected under IUCN categories I-V. *~*

Viet Nam’s Forest Cover, 2010: A) Total Land Area (1000 square kilometers): 31008: B) Total Forest Area (1000 ha): 13797: C) Percent Forest Cover: 44; D) Primary Forest Cover (1000 ha): 80: E) Primary Forest, percent total forest: 1: F) Other wooded land (1000 ha); 1124: G) Percent other wooded land: 4. Breakdown of forest types, 2010: A) Primary forest (1000 ha, percent of forest area): 80, 1; B) Other naturally regenerated forest (1000 ha, percent of forest area): 10205, 74; C) Planted Forest (1000 ha, percent of forest area): 3512, 25.

Trends in Total (Net) Forest Cover, 1990-2010: A) Total Forest Cover (1000 Ha): 1990, 2000, 2005, 2010: 9363, 11725, 13077, 13797. B) Annual Change Rate (1000 ha, negative number represents deforestation: 1990-2000, 2000-2005, 2005-2010: 236, 270, 144: C) Annual Change Rate (percent, negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000, 2000-2005, 2005-2010: 2.28, 2.21, 1.08. Forest Cover (excluding planted forests, 1000 ha) 1990, 2000, 2005, 2010: 8396, 9675, 10283, 10285. A) Annual Change Rate (1000 ha, negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000, 2000-2005, 2005-2010: 128, 128, 61: B) Annual Change Rate (percent, negative number represents deforestation: 1990-2000, 2000-2005, 2005-2010: 1.5, 1.52, 0.63.

Trends in Primary or Old Growth Forest Cover, 1990-2010: A) Primary Forest Cover (1000 ha): 1990, 2000, 2005, 2010: 384, 187, 85, 80. B) Annual Change Rate (1000 ha, negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000, 2000-2005, 2005-2010: -20, -20, -1: C) Annual Change Rate (percent, negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000, 2000-2005, 2005-2010: -6.94, -14.59, -1.21.

Trends in Planted Forest Cover, 1990-2010: A) Planted Forest Cover (1000 ha): 1990, 2000, 2005, 2010: 967, 2050, 2794, 3512. B) Annual Change Rate (1000 ha, negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000, 2000-2005, 2005-2010: 108, 149, 144. C) Annual Change Rate (percent, negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000, 2000-2005, 2005-2010: 7.80, 6.39, 4.68,

A) Primary designated function (percent): Production, Protection of soil and water, Conservation of biodiversity, Social services, Multiple use, Other, None or unknown: 47, 37, 16, 0, 0, 0, 0. B) Forest ownership and management rights 2005 (percent): Ownership Pattern: Public Ownership, Private Ownership, Other: 72, 24, 4. C) Growing Stock in Forest: Total: (million m3), Per hectare: (m3), Coniferous: (million m3), Broadleaved: (million m3), percent commercial species: 870, 63, 22, 848, 32.

Trends in carbon stock in living forest biomass 1990-2010: A) Carbon Stock in Living Forest Biomass: (million metric tons): 1990, 2000, 2005, 2010: 778, 927, 960, 992. B) Carbon Stock in Living Forest Biomass: (per hectare in tons): 2000: 72. C) Annual Change: (1 000 t/yr): 1990, 2000, 2005, 2010: 15, 7, 6. D) Annual Change per Hectare: (t/ha/yr): 1990, 2000, 2005, 2010: , n.s., -1.1, n.s.

Timber Industry and Forestry in Vietnam

In 2003 Vietnam produced an estimated 30.7 million cubic meters of roundwood. Production of sawnwood was a more modest 2,950 cubic meters. In 1992, in response to dwindling forests, Vietnam imposed a ban on the export of logs and raw timber. In 1997 the ban was extended to all timber products except wooden artifacts. During the 1990s, Vietnam began to reclaim land for forests with a tree-planting program. *

Trends in removals of wood products 1990-2005: Industrial Roundwood: A) Total volume (1 000 m3 over bark): 1990, 2000, 2005, percent of which from forest 2005: 3446, 2376, 2703, 100. B) Woodfuel: Total volume (1 000 m3 over bark): 1990, 2000, 2005, percent of which from forest 2005: 26534, 26685, 26240, 100.

Value of wood and NWFP removals 2005: Value of removals: (million US$), Value per ha forest: (US$): Industrial roundwood, Woodfuel, NWFP, Total: 473, 116, n.s., 589, n.s.

Employment in forestry 1990-2005: A) Total: (1000 full-time employees): 2005: 246. B) In Primary Production of Goods-forestry (1000 full-time employees): 1990, 2000, 2005: 80, 198, 239: In Management of Protected Areas-conservation: (1000 full-time employees, 2005): 7. Forest policy and legal framework 2008. A) National forest policy (year): Yes (2003). B) Sub-national forest policy: No. C) National forest program (year) - status: Yes (1987).

Forest revenue and public expenditure on forestry 2005: Forest revenue, Public expenditure (1000 US$): , Domestic funding, External funding, Total: (1000 US$), Operational expenditure, Transfer payments, Operational expenditure, Transfer payments, Operational expenditure, Transfer payments: -, 28690, 154046, 0, 41428, 28690, 195474.

Father and Son Find $5 Million of Eaglewood in Quang Binh

Eaglewood is a valuable and rare kind of aloe wood that comes from a tree and has number of uses in Chinese and ayuveda medicine. In May 2013, VietNamNet reported: “It is rumored that Mr. Tr and his son, residents of Tram Me village in Son Trach commune, Bo Trach district, Quang Binh province, are lucky to find aloes worth VND100 billion or $5 million in the core zone of the National Park of Phong Nha - Ke Bang. After the rumor was spread, a lot of people have flocked to the area to find the remaining aloes. Dozens of eaglewood traders have rushed to Tram Me village to purchase the rare wood. [Source: VietNamNet, May 9, 2013 /^\]

“A neighbor of Mr. Tr. said, nearly one week ago, Tr. and his son went into Sa Lu forest in the Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park (about two hours of walking from the Tro Moong ranger station) to log wood to build a house. They luckily found a dead do tree containing a large volume of eaglewood. The two men spent two days to carry the wood home. After that they found another living do tree with aloes. They hired a truck to take it home. The neighbor added that Mr. Tr showed him a block of eaglewood of around 15 kilo. He said Tr has many similar aloes blocks. "At first, when the neighbors like me went to his home to see the wood, he gave each of us a small piece of aloes. I sold it for VND1 million. Some people earned several tens of million dong from collecting remaining aloes. Now rumors has spread so fast so Tr. hid the wood," said the neighbor. /^\

“A local aloes trader said Tr. asked him to deposit VND100 billion to see the eaglewood. The trader and his friends mobilized VND50 billion and took the money to Tr.’s home but Tr. refused to show them the rare wood. At present, not only aloes traders in Quang Binh but those from Ha Tinh, Nghe An, Ho Chi Minh City... are in Tram Me village, hoping to buy the wood from Tr. "Because of the rumors, Tr. and his son were afraid of the authorities so they have fled away. But we are still here to wait for him. I’m sure that Tr. has the best quality aloes because the aloes that we bought from others is very good," a trader said. /^\

“A large number of rangers of the Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park have been mobilized to control the entrance to the forest. Over the phone, Mr. Nguyen Thanh Tinh (who just took office as director of Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park) said he was informed of the news at 10am on May 7. Immediately, he called an emergency meeting with the rangers to implement response plans. Rangers were mobilized to prevent locals from entering the forest to collect aloes. At the same time, a task force was sent to the scene to gather information. They group found two pits located close to each other. Another group of inspectors went to Tram Me village. They reported that Tr and his family members were no longer at home. Their house was locked. The national park authorities have implemented measures to prevent Tr. from selling eaglewood. /^\

Vietnamese Soldier and Ranger Killed by Illegal Loggers

In December 2000, AFP reported: “A Vietnamese soldier has been killed and a forest ranger wounded while pursuing illegal loggers in the northern province of Thanh Hoa, police said Friday. Sergeant Vu Van Quang, 21, was deliberately run down Wednesday by a truck driven by illegal loggers after giving chase on his motorcycle, police said. [Source: Agence France Presse, December 1, 2000 <:>]

“A forest ranger, Nguyen Van Vay, was also seriously injured while trying to stop the truck, police said. The truck carrying a load of illegally felled logs was eventually stopped after its rear tires were shot out. Two illegal loggers were arrested while another two escaped. Twelve forest rangers have been killed and 490 wounded by illegal loggers during the past five years according to official statistics published in the Vietnamese press. A local police chief in Ha Tinh province and his five-year-old daughter were also killed in a bomb blast blamed on an illegal logger. <:>

In September 2004, Associated Press reported: “Illegal loggers were being sought for allegedly shooting to death a forest ranger in northern Vietnam, state-controlled media reported Thursday. Tran Xuan Bac died Tuesday after being shot in the chest by the loggers while on patrol with three other rangers in the forest in Na Hang district in Tuyen Quang province, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) northwest of Hanoi, the Labor newspaper said. The newspaper said the three illegal loggers, armed with guns and a machete, fled when they were asked to stop and began shooting when the rangers gave chase. Police were still searching for the men, who are believed to be hiding in the forest, the newspaper said. Guns are strictly prohibited in communist Vietnam, and violent crimes involving fire arms are extremely rare. [Source: Associated Press, September 30, 2004]

Timber Industry to Other Countries after Ravaging Vietnam

In February 2006, AFP reported: “Vietnam's forests were once deemed endangered. There is little left now to worry about. The timber industry, having laid waste to the country's green cover as well as that in neighbouring Laos and Cambodia, has set its sights farther afield. "Despite a fall in the number of cases uncovered, timber trafficking by several smuggling rings intensified in 2005," says agriculture ministry official Do Tri Cuong. "The smugglers don't shirk from attacking forest rangers, three of whom were killed and eight wounded last year," Cuong says. "Official figures only show the tip of the iceberg of timber trafficking." Experts say all of Southeast Asia's forests are threatened. [Source: Agence France Presse, February 18, 2006 *-*]

"It's very hard to speak at a country specific level, it's more a regional trade issue," says Fergus MacDonald of the conservation group WWF in Hanoi. Having finished with forests nearer home, Vietnamese traffickers crossed over to Laos and Cambodia, where age-old trees have gradually disappeared, mostly with the complicity of local officials. "In Laos, there's no management plan, there's no harvesting map, there's no boundaries," says a foreign businessman. *-*

“Until three or four years ago, he says, "a Vietnamese logging company would have a permit from some government offices saying everything between that river and this one can be cut. And there was nobody there to check what the company was doing." Today, half the timber trade in Vietnam is illegal, he says. The raw material is being sourced from elsewhere -- Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar or Papua New Guinea. In these countries, the wood "is legalized when its exported. They make some funny paperwork and everything looks fine", the businessman adds. *-*

“The international campaigning organization Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) estimates that timber trafficking in East and Southeast Asia is worth 2.5 billion dollars (two billion euros) a year. EIA is seeking to promote international conventions of forestry protection, noting that many governments are serious about tackling the issue. In 2001, Southeast Asian countries agreed to fight timber trafficking, signing several agreements to that effect. But little appears to have actually changed. *-*

"Unfortunately, no shipments of illegal wood have actually been halted as a result," the organization notes. "No country in Asia or elsewhere has laws which specifically prohibit the import of timber or wood products which were illegally sourced in the country of origin," it says. Promoting reforestation and legal commerce in timber would need sustained regional cooperation as well as private traders' participation, experts say.

Danish furniture maker ScanCom, for instance, insists on verifying the legality of the timber it buys in Latin America and South Africa but it has little use for official certificates of authenticity. "We could not believe any papers" purporting to certify the legal origin of the wood, says Chad Ovel, managing director of ScanCom Vietnam. "I go around the world, I buy the wood, import it to Vietnam, sell it to the factory. They process it and sell the furniture back to me. That's the only way." That attitude is commended by WWF's MacDonald, who wants retail buyers to show similar concern. *-*

Large Forest Fire Contained in Southern Vietnam

In April 2002, Associated Press reported: “Hundreds of soldiers and firefighters have managed to contain a fire raging for two weeks in a natural indigo forest in southern Vietnam by cutting wide firebreaks, an official said Friday. The fire had endangered thousands of hectares (acres) of primeval forests in U Minh Thuong national park, Vietnam's second-largest bird sanctuary. [Source: The Associated Press, April 5, 2002 \=/]

“Firefighters were forced to pump salty water into the park to wet vegetation and slow the fire's spread because of a shortage of fresh water during the current dry season, said Truong Quoc Tuan, governor of Kien Giang province. The salty water, along with the effects of the fire, could threaten the park's rich biodiversity, including 188 bird species, the official Vietnam News Agency said. \=/

The fire, which was still burning, started March 22 in the 21,000-hectare (52,000-acre) park, a former stronghold of Communist soldiers during Vietnam's wars against France and the United States. It has destroyed more than 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) of primeval forests, Tuan said. Authorities had earlier estimated that as much as 4,000 hectares (9,400 acres) might be burned, but firefighters managed to contain the blaze by clearing trees 30 meters (100 feet) deep along both sides of eight-meter (26-foot) -wide canals running through the forest, he said. \=/

More than 400 soldiers and firefighters remained on standby Friday, he said. It was the third fire in the past three months in the forest, parched by dry weather. Two weeks ago, a fire started by a cigarette butt destroyed 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of forests in the neighboring province of Ca Mau.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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