Discussion on management plan in Song Thanh Nature Reserve, Quangnam province, Vietnam

Introduction
1. Governance and planning system
Song Thanh Nature Reserve is managed by the Management Board with 31 staffs at present. There are one director and two vice directors on the management board. Six staffs are doing administrative work; two staffs belong to the Research and Monitoring unit; remained ones belong to Protection unit.

The nature reserve management board is under the direct management of provincial Forest Protection Depatment of Quangnam province. The role of management board is to: i) protect natural resources, landscape and environment; ii) cooperate with universities, research institutes to carry out research on forest and biodiversity conservation; iii) cooperate with other agencies (e.g. NGOs), to carry out awareness raising, community development, ecotourism and staff training activities; iv) monitor and evaluate natural resources.
Besides, nature reserve’s staffs are also cooperated with other agencies, such as district forest rangers, policemen and soldiers in protecting natural resources. The joined enforcement campaigns are sometimes launched to stop illegal mining, logging, hunting in the nature reserve; but these events do not happen regularly due to the budget limitation.
There are four ethnic groups inhabiting in the buffer zone of the nature reserve. These people are highly dependent on forest resources for their livelihoods and have cultural and spiritual practices based on the forest. However, all the natural forest belongs to government and co-management has not been established in this area yet.
According to the current management system in Vietnam, the nature reserve management plan should be made by the Management Development Team of the reserve’s Management Board that may including director and/or vice director, forest protection staffs, enforcement staffs, finance staffs. The management plan must be endorsed by Forest Protection Department and approved by Provincial People Committee for allocating the budget, staffs, etc. before implementing.
2. Threats
Based on an assessment of the threats to Song Thanh Nature Reserve recently, six major threats were identified.
2.1. Hunting and fishing
The majority of threatened species in Song Thanh Nature Reserve are large mammals. These species is directly targeted for subsistence consumption and for trade as bushmeat, medicine, pets or ornamental use. Some species, especially wild pig, muntjac, macaques, porcupines, civets and rats are seen as serious threats to agriculture and so are trapped to protect crops. Hunting activities have been done not only by local people living surrounding the reserve but also by outsiders. The current intensity of such hunting combined with trade driving hunting results in un-sustainable hunting pressures.
Fishing is also been considered as over harvested and exploit environment with bad practices such as the use of explosives, poison and electricity.
2.2. Logging
Although enforcement efforts have been increasing, illegal logging in Song Thanh Nature Reserve still happen. Logging can be conducted by outsiders and local people for trade or for home uses. Logs are removed from the forest either by river or by buffalo. Illegal logging driven by the trade is more serious and can lead to the extirpation of some species from Song Thanh Nature Reserve such as the critically endangered Hopea hiananensis. .
2.3. Over-exploitation of non-timber forest products (NTFPs)
Harvesting of NTFPs (not including animals or timber) is conducted by a wide range of people for numerous reasons, including local communities and outsiders. The products harvested are many, but include aquilaria, honey, rattan, ‘uoi’ fruit, fire wood, palm fronds and bamboo shoots. The products harvested are for trade and subsistence uses. Once external forces are involved in harvest, collection rates can increase past sustainable levels and so resources are depleted. This not only effects biodiversity, but also removes critical resources for local communities, the majority of which are not collecting for trade, but for subsistence.
2.4. Forest conversion
The conversion of forest to agricultural land and Acacia plantation is one of main causes of deforestation and forest degradation in the buffer zone and this may make more pressure to the core zone. This problem has been considered as the effect of population increase and land demand for agriculture and plantation recently. Besides, the upgrading of roads cutting through the core zone of the reserve provides access to forest areas and could result in large scale forest conversion along these roads. Not only would this effect forest cover, but also could potentially disrupt habitat connectivity, vastly reducing the effectiveness of the reserve as a core area for wide-ranging species such as tiger.
2.5. Freshwater degradation
Freshwater are an important ecosystem both in terms of biodiversity and local community resources. Water quality and fresh water biodiversity have been seriously affected by illegal gold mining and exploited fishing activities recently. Gold miners use poisonous chemicals such as mercury and cyanide in accelerating process. The issue of poisoning also needs addressing, both from the point of view of biodiversity loss and human health.
2.6. Construction of roads and hydropower dam
Road construction is considered as indirect threat to habitat in the reserve. The continuousness of forest cover is broken within the core zone in two locations and within two corridors in the buffer zone due to road construction.
Three hydropower dams are proposed for construction in the buffer zone. The potential of forest loss and the affects indigenous freshwater biodiversity would be happened. Although the dams will not be in the core zone, the flooding will extend into these areas.This is likely to prevent the migration and so breeding of many species. Reservoirs almost without exception are subject to release of non-native fish species. These can have large effects on indigenous species, often leading to the local extinction.
3. Management challenges
3.1. Legislation challenges
The boundary of Song Thanh nature reserve is inadequate at some places that have not designed based on biological and social – economic requirements. The boundary demarcations are not clearly known by the management authorities and local residents. The management plan has been prepared but not well implemented
3.2. Lack of number and qualified staffs and equipments
According to the approved investment plan for Song Thanh Nature Reserve, the number of staff should be 92. However, there are only 25 staffs at present in the management board. The guard ratio is about 4,000 hectares/guard. This ratio makes it impossible for a guard to fulfill his job.
The capacity of the staffs is also inadequate to carry out their tasks because most of the staffs graduated in silviculture, having little knowledge or experience of conservation. Additional obstacles to the effective functioning of the forest protection staffs are poor living and working conditions, lack of communications, office and technical equipment.
3.3. Lack of budget
Song Thanh nature reserve management board has not been able to carry out many activities, in particularly research and biodiversity monitoring in the reserve due to the lack of funding. The fund for the reserve’s operations is just come from Quangnam province and basically for the staff’s salaries. Other fund sources via the conservation projects funded by NGOs are not continuous and stable.
3.4. Lack of participatory management mechanism and communication with communities in the buffer zone
Song Thanh management board is only given responsibility over core zone. Local communities have some inputs into discussions relating to its management but on direct involvement in decision.
The village/community patrol teams, established under conservation projects to protect the forests within and around the villages, and forest protection agreements between communities and the reserve’s management board were recognized as good models in some villages, but those have not worked well recently after the projects finished due to budget constraints.
4. The issues should be included in the management plan of the nature reserve and recommendations
4.1. Management objectives
The management objectives should be clearly addressed including long-term vision and short-term objectives.
Long-term vision
The biodiversity and local cultural traditions in and around Song Thanh Nature Reserve, are effectively managed and protected by rangers in partnership with local communities whilst ensuring sustainable development of the buffer zone and, as a core component of the Central Annamites Landscape, ecosystem processes are maintained and enhanced.
Objectives
Management:
Budget and resources are efficiently utilised by trained, motivated and monitored staff to achieve realistic targets towards strategic objectives within the framework of an adaptive management plan
Protection:
Threats to natural resources across the whole nature reserve are minimised by trained, motivated and equipped rangers and communities in partnership with related departments through a coordinated patrolling and monitoring implementation plan within a law enforcement strategy.
Research and monitoring:
Forest management, protection and monitoring activities are focused on key areas identified based on priority species by a trained scientific and monitoring unit working towards a strategic plan for area, species, forest cover, priority habitats and freshwater conservation.
Community cooperation and economic development:
Effective forest protection and resource management is conducted in partnership with empowered and informed communities and other stakeholders in each commune within Song Thanh Nature Reserve, facilitating sustainable economic development in the buffer zone.
4.2. Management Activities
Management actions should be grouped according to the objectives to which they will contribute and the target by which they will be monitored.
Management activities:
Include management planning, personal management, capacity building and those should be considered as critical priority
Protection activities:
Should include law enforcement strategy, reduce trapping, gun removal, removal of illegal gold mining, developing informant network; and those should be considered as high priority.
Research and monitoring:
Should establish the Research and Monitoring unit and carry out biological socio-economic researches; and those should be considered as high priority.
Community cooperation and economic development:
Should include reserve’s boundary re-design, community co-management, forest – land allocation and conservation education. In which, community co-management is considered highest priority.
4.3. Implementation plans
Management:
The responsible person, partners, implementing time of each activity should be clearly addressed in the implementation plan. The monitoring plan is also set up together with annual management review.
Protection:
The duty of Protection unit is to protect the forest and its resources. This can involve many approaches which in this management plan are lumped into two objectives: protection and community cooperation. Each activity or group of activities of patrol, trap removal campaign, gun removal campaign, gold mining removal, informant network, violation database, etc. should be mentioned in detail in the implementation plan.
Research and monitoring:
The primary function of this unit is to directly monitor the values of Song Thanh Nature Reserve, using the results to inform and adapt management actions. The primary values of Song Thanh Nature Reserve are biodiversity and watershed related.
The animal abundance would be measured and the threats to biodiversity would also be monitored over time by Research and Monitoring unit with supported from rangers whenever they go to the forest.
The science work focussing on identifying the distribution of and key locations for the conservation of the priority values would be done in the Nature Reserve.
Where key values are localised such as a population of doucs or a community sacred forest, the Research and Monitoring Unit will be charged with delineating an Intensive Protection Zone in consultation with local communities. These zones will then have specific management actions designed by the Research and Monitoring Unit in cooperation with the reserve management board and local communities to ensure the persistence of values.
Community cooperation and economic development:
The development of effective co-management involves many steps as outlined in the actions of the management plan above. It is impossible to extract one section of the process without the others being hindered. Therefore the process is explained here step-by-step to facilitate its complete implementation.
Gaining community consensus on the boundary of the reserve is critical for enforcing the laws of the reserve adequately, ensuring high value forest is protected and not disenfranchising local communities from their resources. Community consultation on the reserve boundary will therefore be sought and the boundary re-designed and demarcated in the forest.
Core Zone delineation and buffer zone land allocation are inseparable activities. Community consultation on land allocation will be conducted by ‘District Allocation Teams’. The Community Cooperation Unit in partnership with the Director and Section Leaders should ensure that commune rangers are involved with this activity in each commune.
Once all communes have agreed to the boundary location a report will be produced by the Community Cooperation Unit and reviewed by Section Heads and the Director.
Boundary demarcation
Major boundary posts should be placed on forest entry points as well as prominent features such as ridge tops and rivers. Smaller boundary markers should be placed every 1km around the boundary of the reserve.
Defining clear boundaries is one pre-requisite of effective community-based conservation.
Village co-management agreements called ‘Huong Uocs’ will be developed in each village. These form the basis of sustainable forest management in the village including sustainable harvest and resource protection mechanisms.
‘Village Protection Teams’ (community patrol groups) are to be established to enable communities to protect their forest resources. This permits sustainable harvest mechanisms to be established and assists with protection goals as ‘outsiders’ should be excluded from the core zone of Song Thanh. Village Protection Teams will consist of two to five members per village who are voted for by the community. These teams will work together and with commune officials to conduct patrols. Establishment should follow the working example in Tabhing commune, Nam Giang district.
Field demarcation of co-managed zones will require one to two months per commune and involve a lot of field time. Demarcation will be trialled in Tabhing commune during 2005 with replication in other communes in subsequent years will all communes being completed by the end of 2006.
Village Protection Teams
Essentially community patrols groups, Village Protection Teams are established to empower communities to protect their natural resources from outsiders so providing a ‘closed access’ system that can be managed and harvest sustainable. As well as facilitating an increase and stabilisation of natural capital (so acting as one avenue for poverty alleviation) these teams also assist the nature reserve in preventing access to the core zone by outside violators.
Conservation education
A member of the Community Cooperation Unit will be nominated to develop a conservation education programme for Song Thanh Nature Reserve in partnership with the rest of the unit and the commune rangers.
4.4. Monitoring and Evaluation
Monitoring has been intrinsically built into all activities. Three major steps to be taken to ensure all activities are conducted to the highest standards possible, within the allotted time schedule, by the most appropriate rangers and with full community consensus are:
Strategic action planning to achieve realistic, clearly defined targets within the framework of a management plan and operational plans.
Strong personnel management to ensure all rangers know what, when and how to conduct tasks. Monthly, two-way time planning and annual reviews will ensure rangers continue to work towards personnel, departmental, station and reserve goals and annual targets.
The creation of the scientific research and monitoring department will ensure an independent monitoring system to each target and facilitate the knowledge required for and the understanding of, the importance of monitoring and evaluation systems.
References
Nguyen Thi Dao 2002. Co-management of Protected Areas: Finding Solutions for Song Thanh Nature Reserve, Vietnam. Thesis. DICE, University of Kent, UK

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