Impact on Wildlife

The habitat of Southern white cheek gibbons, the Eastern Sarus Cranes, tigers, Asian elephants, gaur, wild water buffalo, wild boar, bear, deer, civets, leopards and many other species of animals were heavily affected by the herbicides and the war in general. The two species that thrived as a result of the deforestation were rats and mice, previously rare to the forested areas.  After the war they were quite common, causing damage to crops and spreading diseases.

The destruction of the habitat by the war compounded by post-war human activities threatened the extinction of many species that were already rare, and pushed others into the rare column, especially as the remaining forest areas came under even more population pressure, were logged off and turned into plantations. In addition, previously sustainable practices such as swidden agriculture and harvesting of forest products were no longer viable in areas where severe defoliation occurred.

 

Dealing With the Damage

After the war, the Vietnamese government began reforestation efforts, beginning with the mangrove forests in the Mekong Delta regions and in Can Gio outside of Saigon areas, where mangroves are vital in preventing serious flooding during the seasonal monsoons and tropical storms.  Fortunately, these species are relatively easy to replant and today more than 190,000 acres of the mangroves have been replanted. Today, the main threat to the coastal mangroves is extensive shrimp farming operations.

However, restoring the diverse upland forest ecology has not been as easy, as this requires intensive reforestation efforts, including the harvesting of seeds from high quality hardwood trees, nurturing the seedlings in nurseries, replenishing the depleted soil, planting a layer of fast growing shade trees to protect the young seedlings and, finally, planting the hardwood seedlings that make the upper story, and then the seedlings of species of trees, rattans, bamboos and shrubs that make up the lower stories.

The Ma Da forest north of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) has in recent years undergone intensive reforestation efforts and Vietnamese scientists have found that as the habitat has been restored wildlife are returning to the area.

Defoliation in Ma Da: Landsat view.  

For the most part, the Vietnamese have planted single species plantations of acacia and eucalyptus in the defoliated regions of the upland forests in order to stem erosion on the defoliated land and provide a renewable resource for the local populations. These trees are harvested every 4–5 years and sold for pulp or the furniture industry, and provide an income for the local population.

However, this is just a temporary measure; the longer term plan, contingent on funding, is to increase the quality and biodiversity of the forest coverage as much as possible, taking into consideration both the conservation goals of the region as well as the human needs of sustainable use of forests.  (Dr. Boi's efforts, shown left, from the Chicago Tribune.)

Unfortunately, all these efforts should be seen in the context of the growing disaster of the Vietnamese environment, arising from the wholesale destruction of forests and pollution of rivers and lakes for short-term economic gain since the war ended, as reported by an observer sympathetic to Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.  Of course, to the extent that the total impoverishment of the country by the war provided an impetus for such behavior, and to the extent that the use of Agent Orange contributed to such impoverishment, the ecological consequences of its use may be even wider than supposed.

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Chicago Tribune

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 and the Environment: From Research
to Remediation

Phung Tuu Boi, PowerPoint presentation. 

Vietnam War’s Lasting Legacy, Phung Tuu Boi, PowerPoint presentation. 

Agent Orange in the Viet Nam War: History and Consquences

by Prof. Dr. Le Cao Dai
(published in Vietnam - not currently available)