When Tra Vinh town planned to build an embankment to stop erosion along a canal in 2006, many officials agreed to chop down decades-old forests for the purpose.
But there was a hue and cry from a group of tree huggers.
People argued back and forth until the province’s chairman ruled in favor of the Dipterocarpus alatus trees, known in Vietnamese as “dau rai” and is an endangered species in its natural habitat.
Another time a government office in town asked to cut down a tree growing in the middle of its main gate but the province chairman said no.
People in Tra Vinh, the capital of the Mekong Delta province of the same name, say one thing they are proud about their leaders is their respect for trees, which has kept their town one of the greenest in the country.
Trees are usually spared in any urban development project in this town, which has around 20,000 trees that are five to more than 200 years old.
“It is thanks to the protection by generations of leaders and people,” Ho Van Tri, director of the city’s state-owned Tree Management Company, said.
There have been exceptions, but any plan to cut down or move a tree has to go through a lot of clearances.
“We deal with trees with great caution,” Tri said.
He said since the wars ended locals have been protecting the trees that were left, more than 1,000 at the time.
There was a difficult time when many people stripped off trees’ barks to use as firewood.
But the city quickly issued a ban and set up a watch over every tree, which effectively stopped this practice.
Then the city invested in planting new trees, asking for seeds from rural areas in the province.
“We didn’t have a plan or a list. We took any seed given, and so some streets even planted bamboo,” Tri said.
Work on a drainage project in Tra Vinh is carried out on the road to spare the trees on the sidewalk. Photo: Tien Trinh
Visitors have given the city various nicknames, including “green city” and “city in the jungle.”
And locals are too proud to refer to roads by their official names.
They call Le Thanh Ton “Hang Sao” for its range of threatened "sao" (Hopea odorata) trees, May 19 (Ho Chi Minh’s birthday) “Hang Me” after its tamarind trees, and Nguyen Thi Minh Khai “Cay Dau” in memory of a very large "dau rai" tree.
Bay Trac, an old local, said of the tree with a lot of love: “The tree was damaged in a road crash. A car hit it and it died. But we still remember it.”
Tri is busier these days as he has to supervise a drainage project on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, making sure that it does not damage any trees.
The work has to be done on the road to avoid the 50-year-old trees on the sidewalk.
And any time they hit a root, workers have to stop and wait for orders.