The plunder of the nation's forests continues, this time under the pretext of gathering "waste" wood.
In the central province of Quang Nam, migrants and forestry enterprises have been felling trees and poaching wildlife from the Macooih forest using several tricks to make the deforestation legal.
The P'rao Agriculture and Forest Products Import Export Company, privatized around two years ago, has been allowed to gather more than 2,000 cubic meters of burnt, spoilt and dry wood left behind by loggers, or trees felled by winds.
Local residents belonging to the K'tu ethnic minority say that the company has instead been sending trucks in the early hours of the morning to carry out waste wood along with good timber after illegally felling trees.
Migrants from other provinces in the north and neighboring Quang Binh Province have also taken advantage of the situation to enter primary forests and cut down trees. When caught, they claim to have been collecting tree tops and branches left behind by others.
Alang Trung, a village police officer, said many loggers have come from the north to live in the mountains amid the forests.
"Wherever they are, the forests are disturbed."
They would not fell the tree right away but would make some cuts in the trunk, so that when the tree falls some time later, they would say it fell in the wind, Trung said.
Otherwise, they would bury the tree, dig it up after several days and say "it's rotten wood."
Small trees are being cut as well, Trung said, adding, "Macooih Commune is running out of wood."
This is happening in an area where "the forests were once thick enough that you couldn't tell where one tree began and another started."
The trees are being felled to make furniture and also used for firewood.
Alang Ban, head of the commune's Communist Party unit, told Thanh Nien that people from different places have come here to destroy the forests and catch wild animals.
They've brought their families, put up sawing mills and built tents to live there until they earn a lot of money, he said.
They hire the ethnic minority residents for a few dozen thousand dong a day to watch out for forest wardens or to feed the buffalos used to carry the wood.
"People from Quang Binh Province have set thousands of animal traps on different mountains. There are too many traps to destroy," Ban said.
Now "there's no deer, hedgehog or fox to be seen."
The area was famous for Hang Doi, a cave with thousands of bats. Now the cave stands empty, the bats driven away by motorbikes and trucks running day and night to carry the wood.
As the forests are being devastated faster than new trees can grow, Le Hoang Son, deputy chief forest warden of Dong Giang District, said the logs they seize are getting smaller.
More than 600 cubic meters of illegally felled wood were seized in the district last year.
Each forest ranger in the province is given responsibility for 7,000 to 9,000 hectares of forest and is not as well equipped as the loggers.
The local forest rangers have not been able to put a stop to the illegal destruction of the forest, and are attacked sometimes as they try to do their job, Son said. Rangers have been pushed off their vehicles and slashed in the face with knives, he added.
Huynh Hong Thanh, chief police officer of Dong Giang District, said the "core solution" to the problem is to help locals out of poverty.
"In the past, locals were hired to give loggers a hand and now they are chopping the trees themselves."