PM orders closure of natural forests in strategic Central Highlands

By Toan Dao   June 21, 2016 | 08:04 am GMT+7

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Monday said the government is determined to freeze the remaining 2.25 million hectares of natural forests in the Central Highlands in an effort to protect the area from deforestation.

Except those for national security and defense purposes, no other new economic projects are allowed to be located in the natural forests. The projects, which have already been approved but have not been implemented, are required to be canceled, too, Phuc told a conference preserving forests to combat climate change in the Central Highlands.

“It is needed to close the processing plants of natural wood, too,” the Prime Minister said, adding that this critical measure should be done to thwart wood cutting down and transport from the forests.

The area for coffee, rubber and other industrial crops in the region is large at present and there is no need to use more forest area for plantations, he said.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the conference on June 20. Photo by VGP/Quang Hieu

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the conference on June 20. Photo by VGP/Quang Hieu

Normally, an investor of a hydropower plant must plant new forests to replace the forest area in the project and pay environmental fees. Phuc asked local authorities to review the operating hydropower plants in the region and suspend or terminate those who did not fulfill their obligations.

The authorities including public security and defense forces are also required to fight against deforestation and punish those responsible.

Vietnam’s Central Highlands, dubbed the roof of Indochina, is bounded by Laos and Cambodia to the west, by Vietnam’s south central coast to the east and northeast.

The region, covering Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Gia Lai, Kon Tum and Lam Dong provinces, is known for its biodiversity as well as rich culture of its local ethnic minorities. But deforestation in the area has exacerbated in recent years, leading to the decrease of 300,000 hectares of forest area during 2010-2014. The forests which have high-value wood now only account for 10.4 percent of the remaining forest area. The number of animals as well as rare herbs in the jungle has fallen sharply in recent years.

Experts and officials at the conference agreed deforestation and conversion of forests for economic purposes are two main causes for the decrease of forest area in the Central Highlands. Poor management and protection of forests, migration to the region, and slow restructuring of forestry companies have caused the situation to get worse, a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said.

Improving income of local people is critical in preserving the forests and dealing with deforestation, an official from the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs said, adding that the government should consider creating jobs for locals.

“We may lose the Central Highlands if we lose the forests,” the Prime Minister said. 

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