Habitat loss in the Greater Annamites Ecoregion
Annamites - Human population size threatens natural habitats
Institutional capacity | Logging | Population and migration
Agricultural expansion and intensification
Clearance of natural habitats to increase levels of agricultural production is underway throughout the ecoregion but has been most severe in Vietnam, particularly in accessible areas, such as close to roads and urban centers.
Agricultural expansion is more difficult in less accessible areas such as those at remote higher altitudes. The highlands are populated throughout the region by ethnic peoples who maintain ‘swidden’ agricultural practices. While swidden agriculture is actually less destructive to natural habitats than commonly believed, the natural increase of human populations and migration programmes into these remote areas means that highland forests are under increasing threat.
Awareness and attitude
Awareness, or lack thereof, about the roles of healthy ecosystems and biodiversity in ensuring a sustainable future for the inhabitants of the Greater Annamites is a key factor in determining whether the type and course of development in the region is appropriate. It is imperative that those making decisions that affect the ecoregion, as well as protecting and living in the ecoregion, cultivate a good understanding of and attitude towards developing "sustainably" – in other words, with due consideration of the environment and of society.
In order to provide a more efficient service for human populations, and to provide better support to development initiatives, major infrastructure projects are both planned and underway. Of these projects, road building and dam construction are the most destructive to biodiversity. While these two are often necessary, the detrimental effects stem largely from inadequate consideration for environmental impacts during planning stages, as well as the rapid and expansive nature of the development process.
While the direct effects of these developments, such as land clearance for roads and inundation of habitats during dam construction, are considerable it is the indirect effects that provide the most persistent threat to biodiversity. Roads open up remote areas previously inaccessible leading to the expansion of settlements and increased opportunities for wildlife hunting and collection. Dams affect entire river catchments by flooding the vicinity, altering water flow downstream and disrupting migration patterns/movements.
The need to address immediate priorities such as poverty alleviation and development within Indochina following years of instability has meant that institutional capacities for biodiversity conservation have been severely limited. This has hampered recent conservation action and affected all levels of conservation management from general awareness of conservation issues to training of technical expertise to the resources required to manage protected areas effectively. While each country has made very real and determined efforts to improve this situation, the scale of the effort and improvement required means that substantial changes will require intense and persistent attention.
Forest cover has been substantially reduced throughout the region. The rate of forest loss has been particularly acute in the lowland areas–especially on the Vietnamese side of the Annamite Mountains. Timber is a vital prop for the economies of the three countries, with State-owned and commercial logging companies reaping the rewards.
In recognition of the desperate state of the forests in Vietnam, the Government has banned logging activities in the majority of production forests and has launched an ambitious programme to double the area of protected forest through increased protection and restoration. Forest habitats in Vietnam and Lao P.D.R. persist mainly in the more remote higher altitude areas.
Population and migration
Over 25 million people live in the Greater Annamites ecoregion. This number fluctuates as people move about, in and out of the region due to socio-economic (i.e. economic development projects, government programs for settlement and resettlement) and environmental (i.e. changes in soil fertility, climatic) changes.
The impacts on habitats and biodiversity can be dire. Increasing population pressures can translate into agricultural intensification and expansion as the number of mouths to feed increases. In addition, the emergence of a middle-class has brought about a shift in consumer demand to more exotic and meat-based diets than ever before, effecting change in the type of crops grown, i.e. soya bean and coffee.
The migration – free or planned – of people within the region and from other regions has mixed results. In some cases, migrants will join family relations and learn to settle quickly. In others, they may end up having to settle in the buffer zones of protected areas, or in areas of poor soil fertility or high probability of soil erosion, such as mountainous areas. As such, their impacts on forested areas can range from over-exploitation of forest resources to encroachment into forest areas for agriculture.