Authorities in the southern province of Dong Nai have set long-term targets for building a green sustainable economy, with strategies that protect and expand the forest cover.

Since closing the forest gates in 1997, the province has become the largest forest area in the southwestern region, with green cover representing more than 54 percent of the natural land, and forest cover 30 percent.

The province is home to tropical green forests covering a total 194,000 ha, concentrated in the Vinh Cuu, Tan Phu, and Dinh Quan districts.

At least 110,000ha of the area is natural forest functioning as a major lung for the entire southern region.

Of the total forest coverage, special-use forests account for 48 percent, protective forests 27.7 percent, and production forests 24.3 percent.

The provincial government has improved the quality of forests, with many poor forests protected and developed into natural ones boasting an increasingly diverse floral carpet and conservation of rare and valuable animal species registered in Vietnam 's Red Book.

To Thanh Buong, deputy director of the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said provincial authorities plan to develop strict policies to protect forests.

Last year alone, authorities uncovered 650 violations of forest management and protection regulations, he said.

Dong Nai forests play a crucial role in developing the local economy, experts say.

The province's forests churn out 3.2 million tonnes of oxygen each year, given that each ha of forested land generates 16 tonnes of oxygen annually.

The forests act as a gigantic factory purifying the air for the southern key economic zone.

They also help to retain water sources to supply fresh water for more than 10 million local residents and industrial development in southeastern provinces and cities, experts say.

With a focus on a green and sustainable economy, the provincial administration in 2004 established the Dong Nai Natural and Cultural Reserve by merging Ma Da, Hieu Liem and Vinh An forestry farms, and the Resistance Base D Historical Relics Management Board.

The aim is to restore the bio-diversity of the indigenous natural forest ecosystem in the Dong Nai River basin , extend the natural conservation area to Cat Tien National Park , and conserve the habitat and migration places of wildlife.

Other goals include the preservation and promotion of cultural and historical values of relics, and development of eco-tourism.

Tran Van Mui, director of Dong Nai Natural and Cultural Reserve, said the reserve is part of the Truong Son ecosystem and one of 200 major ecological areas in the world certified as a priority ecological site by the Vietnam Conservation Fund.

The reserve is also among the largest special-use forests in Vietnam , covering more than 100,000ha of land and water surface.

The gradual recovery of forests has helped hasten the return of more rare animals like gayals, bears, primates and Asian elephants.

The reserve is home to many kinds of rare and precious plants and animals registered in Viet Nam 's Red Book of endangered species.

At the World Network of Biosphere Reserves meeting in Germany in April, 18 new biosphere reserves were added, including Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve, whose former name was Nam Cat Tien Biosphere Reserve.

Covering 969ha, the reserve comprises Cat Tien National Park , Dong Nai Natural and Cultural Reserve and Tri An Reservoir.

The reserve is carrying out a project to replace 3,000ha of exotic plants with native large-timber plants in Resistance Base D over the 2009-2015 period at a total investment of 130 billion VND (6.5 million USD).

Buong said the plan calls for more protection of forests by 2015 and afforestation of 4,350ha and another 4,800ha by 2020./.