Fund for protected areas close to fruition

The initiative comes just as investments on conservation have been decreasing 

Conservation: Bhutan for Life initiative, a fund that would guarantee long-term protection of Bhutan’s parks and biological corridors (BCs), is steadily nearing its realisation.

However, it would miss the December 2015 deadline the prime minister announced in March this year.

The fund is tentatively scheduled to begin implementation from June next year until 2030, according to forest officials.

Renewal Natural Resources GNH Committee endorsed the Bhutan For Life (BFL) Conservation and Financial Plan in July this year and key ministries last month.

The government is expected to announce its commitments for the fund next month.

To ensure the country remains economically and environmentally sustainable, World Wide Fund for nature (WWF) and the government committed last July to create an innovative funding approach, called the Bhutan for Life initiative.

The initiative comes at a time when investments on conservation have been declining for years.

wildlife

A 2014 study showed decreasing trend in public expenditure on environment related programmes.  Reports indicated that conservation in Bhutan is heavily dependent on external donors.

Fund allocation for conservation slumped from about 40.4 percent in 2008-09 to 4.59 percent by the end of 10th Plan, 2012-13.

Wildlife Conservation Division’s chief and the BFL technical team member, Sonam Wangchuk, said, “Priorities were given to other sectors such as ‘road and bridges and agriculture services,” he said.

At the recent national park conference, park officials said more investment has to happen for conservation. They said the ministry in the 11th Plan is allotted the least budget among the ministries and  of the departments in the ministry the forest department has the least.

The ministry was allocated Nu 4.856 billion of which only 19.53 percent equivalent to Nu 890 million is given to the forestry department.

The purpose of BFL fund is to mobilise in a single agreement all the governmental, financial and other commitments needed to develop Bhutan’s network of protected areas and maintain it forever.

The process to institute the fund began as early as June 2012. It gained momentum with the development of the Conservation Plan, Financial Plan and Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay’s visit to the United States in September last year.

The funds seeks to pump in at least USD 10M annually to manage the parks and biological corridors.

“Through the MoU, MoAF and WWF declare their intent to promote the implementation through broad and mutual collaboration in the Bhutan Life Initiative,” Sonam Wangchuk said.

The 10 protected areas and biological corridors form the 51.44 percent of the country.

Sonam Wangchuk said one of the key aspects of Bhutan for Life would be a transition fund, or a repository for donor funds that would act as a bridge to increase support from the government as its economy grows.

“After several years of infrastructure and other one-time costs, including fluctuations for periodic planning, monitoring, and replacement of vehicles and equipment, costs level off at approximately USD seven million a year,” he said.

Sonam Wangchuk said the figures would change as the process moves forward.

“We are trying to look taking programmes to a higher level or the highest standard of park management,” he said.

In the first two and a half years of implementing the fund, by 2018, at least one ecologically representative river is designated for protection from its headwater to its outlet and the appropriate protection mechanisms have been put in place,” the WCD chief forestry officer said.

The government will institute a monitoring system to ensure that forest and natural cover is maintained at 1.38 million hectares within parks and biological corridors.

Within the same period, the BFL will fund measures to prevent and combat poaching in all parks and BCs.

Tshering Palden

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