Officials in Quang Nam province have decided to eliminate a problematic ranger station after deciding the protected woods would be safer without them.
Dong Giang District officials said they began receiving complaints about corruption at the already problematic Ca Nhong Ranger Station right around the time that a huge loss of trees occurred.
That proved the final straw.
District officials, prompted by local tips, found 45 cubic meters of valuable timber in Ba Na-Nui Chua forest at the Quang Nam-Da Nang border during patrols conducted between October 7 and 12.
Dinh Van Huom, vice chairman of Dong Giang District, said locals first alerted them that 14 cubic meters of “go” and “kien kien” had been cut down on October 6.
Both trees belong to the most-protected class of timber in Vietnam.
Days later, officials from the district discovered more “kien kien” stashed in nine different spots in the forest.
The wood had been chopped into 430 boards, some had been stacked as close as one kilometer from the station, which is staffed by five rangers.
Ba Na-Nui Chua is labeled a special use forest (SUF)--a conservation designation for forests containing protected resources and eco-systems.
Officials said this was the biggest deforestation case they've seen in the area since 1997.
During the meeting on Tuesday, District Chairman Do Tai said that the discovery showed that the rangers were irresponsible.
Nguyen Bang, the district’s Communist Party Chief speculated that some of the rangers must have colluded with the timber poachers.
“When a forest is so extensively damaged, we don't just lose natural resources, but the people’s confidence in government," Bang said. "We must strictly punish those who were directly involved."
Ultimately, Dong Giang officials decided they want the ranger crew moved out of Quang Nam.
Bui Van Thao, deputy head of the district environmental office, told a Thanh Nien reporter that there had been one occasion when the rangers tried to stop them from chasing a group of loggers.
Thao said they even observed equipment and motorbikes the loggers had stashed at the station.
Huynh Khanh Toan, vice chairman of Quang Nam, said they had become extremely frustrated and will discuss the closure of the station with officials in Danang.
Criminals or victims?
Tran Van Luong, head of Da Nang Forest Management Unit, said that due to the special status of the forest, this massive loss of resources will be treated as a criminal case.
"We ask that the police intervene to clarify who was behind this terrible act of deforestation," Luong said.
He said the management board is directly involved, but the forest rangers in charge must also be held responsible.
Pham Ngoc Su, director of Ba Na-Nui Chua forest management board based in Da Nang, took responsibility for the lapse and has ordered the five rangers at Ca Nhong station to submit a written explanation for their failure to fulfill their duty.
But Su said the outcome stems, in part, from a massive personnel shortage.
He said the five man crew cannot maintain round-the-clock surveillance over the vast forest.
“They have to protect more than 5,000 hectares of forest that abut a 37 kilometer border with Quang Nam. So perhaps they let their guard down in some areas where the timber poaching occurred,” he said.
He pledged to answer to Danang's Agricultural Department and pledged to discipline those involved.
“We are tasked with protecting the forest, so we will deal with this thoroughly.”
Su said he will inform the press of how he plans to resolve the situation when he’s done.
Nguyen Van Binh, chairman of Quang Nam’s Tu commune (on the edge of the jungle) said officials guarding the forest have been receiving threatening text messages from people who identify themselves as loggers.
Binh said he had received some threats himself and requested police protection, he said.
Figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development released in December 2011 estimated that Vietnam loses nearly 32,000 hectares of forest every year, and illegal logging is responsible for six percent of that loss.