Yearender | Environment: The launch of the much awaited National Forest Inventory 2015 report laid to rest a lot of apprehension. The last such survey to determine the state of the environment or the forests was carried out decades ago. Given the spate of development involving large-scale infrastructure building mainly roads, many feared that the forests were shrinking.

Thanks to the reforestation and afforestation efforts of the forestry department and the local communities in which schools play a major part in planting trees, forest cover has remained at 71 percent.

The first ever status report on Bhutan’s 10 wildlife parks and the Royal Botanical Park in Lamperi revealed that they were managed well but could do better. The first report on the status and effectiveness of protected areas in the country was the outcome of the Bhutan Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT+) tried in the past two years.

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. 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.

This network is expected to grow as the forestry department is already working on expanding the coverage of protected areas to 60 percent. This would also ensure 60 percent of the country under forest cover as required by the Constitution.

The National Environment Commission Secretariat (NECS) has been working on the revision of The Middle Path, the country’s long term strategy in managing its environment for the past two years. The Cabinet has asked the NECS to align the strategy’s goals and targets with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), therefore delaying the strategy.

This was a year of some bold moves in the environment sector. The government asserted some pressure on waste management declaring December 9 as a national cleaning campaign day and keeping all offices closed on the day to commemorate the coronation of His Majesty The King. The initiative asked locals to volunteer as community trash vigilantes and coordinators of community clean-up campaigns.

In a major move towards implementing environment rules, the Bumthang forest division office imposed a fine of more than Nu 1 million on three contractors widening the East-West Highway in Trongsa for indiscriminate illegal dumping of muck.

Mining companies and communities continued to battle in the courts over their rights with numerous cases in court, two from Thimphu alone.

There are questions remaining such as if the implementation of fines on waste dumping continue as rigorously, or if the newly formed community volunteer groups sustain their new duties.

Tshering Palden