Ha Noi police said the methods employed by the thefts have been very similar. The thieves have taken advantage of bad weather to illegally log sua trees at night. It is not uncommon to see sua trees aged between 20 and 30 years old with diameters varying from 15 to 40cm becoming a target.
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In several cases, young trees, about eight or nine years of age, were also logged. Such was the case with a sua tree at 114 Vu Trong Phung Street (Ha Noi). Illegal loggers left the amputated tree behind after trying in vain to unbind telephone and electric wire from it. Sadly such a young tree would never have provided enough wood for the theft to have been worthwhile.
Many Hanoians had been surprised by the illegal logging, as they are generally unaware of the value of the trees. Police said the crime is difficult to prevent and catching the thieves is even harder.
Ha Noi Police Deputy Director Do Kim Tuyen pledged that illegal logging of sua wood will be dealt with.
Statistics released by Ha Noi Green Park Co Ltd show there are 717 sua trees in the capital. The figure does not include trees which are being grown in districts now comprising an expanded Ha Noi, nor family households.
Though its real value remains largely unknown, the sua tree or the dalbergia tonkinesis has started a trend of planting trees for lumber profits throughout the country.
While the beauty of the sua tree is undeniable, the average person and experts alike are still unable to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the tree s practical use.
Some people believe that the tree s wood is used to make religious objects, while others claimed that the wood can be processed to embalm bodies.
In light of such rumours, others proclaim that the hardwood is used to make ink, household wooden products and handicrafts. Furniture made from the tree s wood has also been said to bring good luck and longevity to owners.
The circulation of such rumours has contributed to an ever-increasing price of sua wood, which ranges from several millions of dong to VND1 billion (over US$55,000) per cubic metre, said deputy chairman of Forestry Products and Wood Association Nguyen Ton Quyen.
According to the statements of 48 offenders involved in the illegal logging of sua wood in Ha Noi and near-by provinces, the suspects confessed that they had sold 1kg of sua wood for VND3 million ($162). Previously, the economic value of the wood was relatively low and hovered around VND5 million ($270) per kilogramme.
Police deputy director Tuyen said that the high economic value and scarcity of sua wood had encouraged those offenders to log the tree in an effort to make fast money.
The increase in the price of sua wood compounded with the circulating rumours has prompted an increasing number of farmers to grow the tree in order to rake in profits.
Vien Van Ngoc of the San Diu ethnic minority group is one such farmer that has capitalised on the tree s popularity.
Ngoc said he has sold over one million of the sua seedlings to growers in cities and provinces nationwide, since he started growing the sua trees in 2006.
In 2007, he earned a profit of more than VND1 billion (US$54,000) from cultivating 300,000 seedlings. This year he has already earned VND300 million ($16,200).
Ngoc said he decided to start planting sua trees after he heard about illegal loggers cutting down the trees in order to earn money.
He also realised that there was an increasing demand for the lumber, especially among a large number of households in Tam Dao District in his native province of Vinh Phuc.
Deputy director of Vinh Phuc Province s Agric-ulture and Rural Development Department Nguyen Duc Thanh said many households had made the most of their unused land in their gardens to plant the tree once they heard about the soaring price of sua wood.
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The rumours helped create a domino effect across the country, starting in 2005. Cultivation of the tree has continued to grow in Bac Giang, Phu Tho, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, Quang Ngai, Quang Nam, and Quang Binh.
The tree had previously not received as much attention because it took 40 to 50 years before it could be exploited. When the trees were harvested, the small diameter of the trunk made it inconvenient for carpenters to make furniture with, said deputy chairman of the Forestry Products and Wood Association Nguyen Ton Quyen.
"Although I have been working with the lumber industry for 40 years, no one had dealt in sua wood until quite recently," Quyen said.
He attributed the rocketing price of sua wood to the evil-mindedness of a number of foreign businesses who had intentionally inflated the price of sua wood in order to incite the people to decimate the trees.
The wood s real value does not equate to the price that rumours have placed on it, Quyen said. But he did acknowledge that the wood is termite resistant and has a fragrant smell.
Police deputy director Tuyen cited the confessions of 17 offenders, who claimed that they had sold sua wood to production companies that specialised in making religious products and wooden furniture in Bac Ninh Province s Dong K District, Ha Noi s Thuong Tin District.
As for the rumour about sua s connection to the embalming process, Asso-ciate Professor Nguyen Lan Cuong said that the tree s by-product did not adequately work for this process. He added that wood from the cupressus funebris species has been found in the graves of mummified bodies in Viet Nam.
Director of the Nature Conservation and Comm-unity Development Centre Phung Tuu Boi said a group of Vietnamese scientists had visited China to consult experts about the country s interest in sua wood. The experts responded to the inquiry with a vague explanation about how the wood is used to make religious paraphernalia and heirlooms.
Also according to Boi, age-old sua trees found in residential areas in China were carefully protected by barbed wire fences.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has asked provincial agricultural and rural development departments nationwide and the Viet Nam Forest Inventory and Planning Institute to assess the quality of sua seeds before cultivating the tree.
The move was made after an increasing number of suppliers began harvesting the seeds in order to meet the high demand from consumers. Forest Development Division Chief Nguyen Huu Thien explained that it was difficult to choose quality seedlings because of the differentiating types of sua saplings.
Under a government decree, sua wood is on the group A list of rare and precious plants.
The ministry also cautioned growers to be considerate if they wanted to plant the trees in a large area, due to the fact that it can be quite expensive to buy sua seedlings. It has also takes several years of growth before the tree is ready to be exploited
"It is not fair if farmers pour money into growing sua, if they do not know where to sell their products," Thien said. VNS
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