Environment: Bhutan’s forest cover as of 2016 is 70.59 percent and the protected areas in Bhutan are well managed, the first ever status report on Bhutan’s 10 wildlife parks and the Royal Botanical Park in Lamperi reveals.

The agriculture and forest ministry launched the first report on the status and effectiveness of protected areas in the country recently. The report was the outcome of the Bhutan Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT+) adapted from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s standard methodology tried in the past two years.

The tool is now being made a component of the protected area management system through an executive order from the government.

The protected areas will be assessed, and their performance measured every five years.

The first State of the Park 2016 report gives a detailed and definitive picture of the status, trends and management needs of the country’s protected areas system.

The report provides both a baseline against which to measure progress towards Bhutan for Life, a new funding programme for protected areas, and a methodology for tracking protected area management effectiveness over time.

One of the major problems in management is lack of financial and appropriate technical resources, and there are gaps in the monitoring and research data. These constraints limit the ability to understand the impact of conservation, react to changing conditions and to adapt management systems to improve efficiency and effectiveness, the report states.

The report shows 83 percent effectiveness in context which means that protected areas are strong in terms of understanding the context of protection, all protected areas are well designated and management objectives in place, and threats understood, among others.

Outcome data, one of the six elements of the assessment, was found lacking. Only two national surveys for flagship species, the tiger and snow leopard were conducted.

“Although the protected areas budgets are stable, the level of resources is insufficient given the size of the network and challenges such as the demanding terrain,” the report states.

There are other challenges. The emerging threat of the country being used as a transit route for illegal wildlife trade, climate change, increasing tourism demands, and the impact of infrastructure development were identified as some threats.

“These issues if not addressed are expected to have major adverse impacts on the protected area management,” a press release from the agriculture and forest ministry states.

Bhutan’s protected areas form a conservation network covering 51.44 percent of the country consisting of 10 protected areas, a botanical park and seven connecting biological corridors. The network protects and controls important biological resources for sustainable development most notably the Cordyceps insect-fungi and medicinal herbs along with endangered species like the tiger, snow leopard, and takin, among others.

Bhutan’s conservation partners are the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Global Environmental Facility (GEF-5), World Bank (WB), Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation (BTFEC), and Nature and Biodiversity Union of Germany (NABU).

Of the 768,577 people in the country as of this year, 87 percent is dependent on the renewal natural resources sector. An estimated 420,000 people live within or interact regularly with the protected area system.

The protected area system runs back to the 1960s. The wildlife reserves were then converted in to parks in the 1980s.

Tshering Palden