Unlike several years ago, when locals in a Mekong Delta province exploited their marshy forests to an alarming extent, many of them now grow trees for their own sake and environmental purposes.
In recent years, the marshy forests in Thanh Phu District’s Thanh Phong Commune in Ben Tre Province have put on a new coat with lush trees and other vegetation.
Parts of the forests which serve as protective forest protrude over 20 meters into the sea every year.
It was an entirely different story back in the 1990s and 2000s.
In those days, large expanses of the Thanh Phong marshy forests were indiscriminately felled for wood and firewood or to make room for shrimp ponds and vegetable farms.
In 2006, locals rushed to dig for “sam dat” (a worm-like animal), which were sold in bulk to Chinese traders or to local restaurants as a delicacy and supposed sexual vigor booster.
Thanh Phong forests writhed as scores of trees were felled and uprooted for the invertebrate.
Nguyen Van Xuan, who is in charge of strictly protected forest patches and works under the commune’s Management of Protective and Specialized Forests, recalled that safeguarding the forests back then was tremendously challenging, as tree fellers defied patrols and were particularly active at night.
Things did not improve until 2009, when the Thanh Phong Commune People’s Committee trusted locals with taking care of certain forested areas.
They formed a forest protection team of 10 members, who are war veterans and residents committed to the cause.
They are paid a monthly salary, though it is only enough to buy fuel, and tasked with providing competent agencies with tip-offs as soon as they detect offenders.
The team also conducts daily patrols at different times to prevent tree fellers from setting up.
Members of the team who regularly go night fishing can easily detect perpetrators who are active when it is dark.
A local is tasked with taking care of a forested plot in Ben Tre Province's Thanh Phong Commune. Photo: Tuoi Tre