Greening Bhutan

By  the time we read this, Bhutan could have entered the Guinness Book of World Records for planting 50,000 tree saplings in an hour by 100 people.  This is a massive feat that merits recognition.

Even if we have failed to enter the world record, which is most unlikely, we would have already set a record for ourselves.  Apart from the 50,000 saplings, schools, institutions and even offices are planting trees by the hundreds.  Our children will be richer by thousands of trees more.

We have another record. Despite being a small nation needing all its natural resources to develop, we have our forests almost intact.  With wise leadership at the helm, we have exemplary conservation policies.  Our highest law, the Constitution, mandates that there be 60 percent forest coverage for all times to come.

Besides the attempt to set records, today is an occasion most befitting to pay tribute to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, the “Champion of Earth.”  Given our size, even if we plant trees in every space available, it will still be a small contribution to the world.  But the goodness is in believing in our small contributions.

The wise leadership guided our development when the whole world was overwhelmed by urbanisation or commercialisation.  In Bhutan, we were always reminded that it was wiser to milk the red cow for a living than to slaughter it.

For us, June 2nd is a special day.  While it is the social forestry day, where Bhutanese literally get down to earth to revive it, it is also the anniversary of the coronation of our Fourth Druk Gyalpo.  It should remain special with or without records.

Looking around and looking at old pictures, Bhutanese can confidently boast of more forest coverage now.  While some of our neighbours were ravaging the forest resources for economic gains, our leaders realised that this was unsustainable.  We should thank them for the rich watershed, the catchment area and therefore the good hydrology that has now become our main stream of revenue.

But even as we go home satisfied with planting thousands of tree saplings, let us remind ourselves that the effort should not be forgotten after the ceremony.  June 2nd was declared social forestry day about three decades ago.  Every year on June 2, we plant trees.  Had all the saplings been nurtured well, we would be even richer in terms of tree coverage.

At least half of the saplings cannot see the light of the day.  They are not maintained or protected.  If ornamental, trees are stolen. The yearly forest fires kill thousands of saplings and, in many places, forest fire is an annual event, most of the time, in the same place.

If the young trees are not maturing, we see people cutting down trees for a variety of reasons.  The blue pine tree is stripped of its branches to the top for fuel wood and sang (incense).  To get enough sang for a cleansing ceremony, one has to now drive deep into the forest.

The pressure on forest should have decreased with electricity fast replacing wood for cooking and heating.  Yet there is huge demand for fuel wood to the extent that there is even a shortage.

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