War-torn Vietnam Attempts to Replant its Forests
There are few regions around the world that have seen less battle in the last 50 years than Vietnam. The conflict during the 1960s and early 1970s left a huge impact of the country’s natural ecosystems. Then after the war, agriculture and the logging industry destroyed even larger areas. Now, a consensus on how to replant the forests remains elusive.
Vietnam, located just north of the equator, is home to some of the densest jungles in the world. Being so thick, it made American style of warfare extremely difficult, and it gave the advantage to the America's opponents who used more hit-and-run guerrilla tactics. To counter this advantage, the US military employed massive amounts of defoliants, most well-known being Agent Orange. Add to this the overwhelming aerial bombardments and artillery fire, and you get large tracts of damaged forest.
Agent Orange is some really bad stuff. Not only did it kill the forests of Vietnam, it has caused widespread birth defects and health issues for the people of the country. Also, the factory in Newark, NJ which produced Agent Orange is source of some of the region’s worst contamination. Factory discharge into the nearby Passaic River has left a toxic legacy that remains to be fully cleaned.
After the war ended and NVA tanks rolled into Saigon, the nation struggled to get back on its feet. It greatly expanded its agriculture and logging industry, both abundant resources in this lush tropical country. This has put even greater stresses on the native jungles.
Public attitudes and government policy have turned against ecosystem destruction, and towards forest conservation and expansion. However, the landscape is so altered from its original state, Vietnam's forestry experts are in disagreement with how replanted forests should look.
One faction, supported by the logging industry, wants the planting of acacia and eucalyptus in large plantations. These are fast growing trees that would provide a good timber harvest, but they are foreign species that would support little biodiversity. The other faction, supported by conservationists, want the replanting of native species which are slower growing but support a wide range of indigenous wildlife.
Either way, the status quo is not sustainable. As of 1990, forest covered a mere 27 percent of the country. Vietnam's native Hopea odorata tree has been reduced by selective logging to small isolated groups or individuals. Illegal logging has so rampant this year that four forest rangers were killed and 44 injured while trying to combat it.
The problem of deforestation does not lie solely with Vietnam, but with all of southeast Asia. This tropical region supports a substantial proportion of global biodiversity, but is one of the fastest disappearing in the world.
For more information: http://e360.yale.edu/feature/in_war-scarred_landscape_vietnam_replants_its_forests/2336/