|Trần Đức Minh (right) patrols forest. – Photo khuyennongvn.gov.vn|
Viet Nam News QUẢNG NGÃI — The 65-year-old war veteran Trần Đức Minh has never forgotten the moment he stumbled on a tree trunk while chasing poachers in Nhàn mountain, leaving his feet bleeding.
Falling is merely one of many risks forest rangers face daily. Minh has volunteered to protect Nhàn Mountain in Tịnh Sơn Commune, Sơn Tịnh District, central Quảng Ngãi Province for nearly 40 years.
Some 40 years ago, the 36ha primeval forest, located close to Highway24B, was his and fellow volunteers’ base. Every tree, every rock used to be their hiding places. His life has been spent in this forest. In 1978, when the war ended, the veteran returned to his hometown and has been living in a Ngô village on the foot of Nhàn Mountain since.
Living next to the mountain, every day, Minh hated hearing the sound of axes chopping down trees. Seeing the forest “bleeding” day by day, Minh wondered why “this forest was not damaged by bombs and bullets in the war but was destroyed during peace”.
Prompted by this thought, Minh decided to chase forest destroyers out.
Minh remembers that years ago, locals went into the forest to cut trees to build houses and to burn.
“I came to each house to ask residents to keep forest to maintain long-term livelihoods. Forest resources will run out. When water runs out, how will we plant rice?” Minh told the locals.
Gradually, local awareness has been raised. When strangers climb up Nhàn Mountain, locals report them to Minh.
“Thanks to Minh’s efforts, although acacia prices have risen, no one chops down trees,” Nguyễn Thanh Sơn, chairman of Tịnh Sơn Commune’s People’s Committee said.
“Minh takes a piece of rock or a tree trunk as a mark to split residents’ production forest and primeval forest to make sure no land is lost,” Sơn added.
The reputation of the forest ranger has spread far. No poachers dare to venture into the forest. However, his biggest fear now is people from ethnic minority groups from Sơn Hà District. They come into the forest to poach animals and to find bees.
Minh said that when they identify weasels on trees, they chop down a vast area of trees to spread a net on the other side and cut trees on this side to frighten the animal.
Bee burning for hunting can easily cause forest fire. During bee seasons, Minh and other forest rangers sleep in the forest to remind people not to drop ashes on dry layers of leaves to avoid flames.
“When I remind them, they immediately listen to me,” Minh said.
When asked how much he is paid every month, he said “Don’t mention the wages when talking about forest protection. No wages are equal to conscience”
Each year his forest protection team of three members receives only VNĐ1 million (US$45).
On average, each person receives less than VNĐ1,000 per day besides a portion of 1,000sq.m of land for rice cultivation they did receive at when embarking on the job.
Minh said that his health has recently declined. He is trying to find young people to pass the baton to. — VNS