Associated Press/Worldwide Photos
As Wayne Dwernychuk of the Hatfield Group reported in 2002, “The loss of a significant proportion of southern Vietnam‘s forest cover triggered a number of related effects. For example, loss of timber led to reduced sustainability of ecosystems, decreases in the biodiversity of plants and animals, poorer soil quality, increased water contamination, heavier flooding and erosion, increased leaching of nutrients and reductions in their availability, invasions of less desirable plant species (primarily woody and herbaceous grasses), and possible alterations of both macro- and microclimates.”
-- Long Term Consequences of the Vietnam War: Ecosystems, Report to the
Environmental Conference on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, Stockholm, Sweden, 2002.
During the time of the Vietnam War, dipterocarp forests, plantations, mangroves, brush lands, and other woody vegetation covered around 25 million acres of southern Vietnam, an area approximately the size of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts combined. (The view to the left is of the Dong Nai Forest in 1954; below are unsprayed mangroves.)
The dense forests that covered the uplands of southern Vietnam also provided cover for the enemy forces that the US military and its allies were fighting. For ten years, the US Air Force flew nearly 20,000 herbicide spray missions to destroy the forest cover as well as agricultural lands in key areas of southern Vietnam. More than five million acres of forests and agricultural lands were sprayed at least once, approximately 10% of total land area of southern Vietnam, and about 20% of the forest cover.
Within two to three weeks of spraying, the leaves would drop from the trees, which would remain bare until the next rainy season. In order to defoliate the lower stories of forest cover, one or more follow-up sprayings were needed. About 10 percent of the trees sprayed died from a single spray run. Multiple sprayings resulted in increased mortality for the trees, as did following the herbicide missions with napalm or bombing strikes.
“Trees are our enemy.”
– American Army commander, from Philip Jones Griffiths, “Agent Orange: Collateral Damage in Viet Nam,” 2004.
Philip Jones Griffiths
“We think it’s impossible to make the jungle look
like what it was before. And even then, it would take
60, 80, or 100 years.”
– Dr. Phung Tuu Boi, Director, Vietnamese Forestry Service and Technology Association.
Agent Orange in the Viet Nam War: History and Consquences
by Prof. Dr. Le Cao Dai
(published in Vietnam - not currently available)