Implementation of METT+ reveals that protected areas are well managed but effectiveness is limited

Environment: The protected areas in the country are well managed but its effectiveness is limited by low levels of both financial and technical resources, the country’s first system wide assessment of protected areas reveals.

The Bhutan Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool plus (Bhutan METT+), that was launched yesterday is an assessment methodology adopted from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in which an independent assessment carried out by park officials are further reviewed and evaluated by international consultants and a core team from the Wildlife Conservation division.

The gaps in the monitoring and research data, according to the summary of Bhutan’s state of parks report, limit the ability to understand the impact of conservation, react to changing conditions and to adapt management to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

The full report is, however, due towards the end of the year. The agriculture minister, Yeshey Dorji said by December 2016, Bhutan will launch its first ever state of parks report along with the national forest inventory.

He said that all ten protected areas, equating to 51.44 percent of the country, were evaluated.

In 2014, Bhutan embarked on an ambitious project to conduct a national assessment of all its protected areas to strengthen the management effectiveness.

The director general of forest and park services department, Phento Tshering said METT+ is a tool that is tailor made for Bhutan but also satisfies the universally accepted principles.

Today, Bhutan METT+, a forest official said, provides a baseline for each protected area and has helped identify problems at the specific protected area.

Based on the results of three pilot assessments of Royal Manas Park, Wangchuck Centennial Park and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, human-wildlife conflict and climate change are the common issues confronting the sustainability of the protected areas.

For instance, an assessment conducted at the Umling range office of the Royal Manas Park revealed that there is a deep-seated reluctance to harm elephants because of their sacred value. While there is a compensation package for damaged crops, implementation has been limited due to funding gaps. Again as electric fencings are installed, less farmers pay into the insurance scheme.

Some parts of the park are already engaged in ecotourism but security concerns limit the activities. However, there is an International Union for Conservation project that is expected to provide additional impetus on tourism.

The Manas Park according to the report also faces a threat pertaining to loss of cultural identity. But on further discussion, the report states that the threat has more to do at the national level rather than the park itself.

At one time the park paid compensation for crop damage by tigers and then the scheme was extended to clouded leopards and bears. It has however been withdrawn for the time being due to lack of funds.

Nationally, the report states that the wild boar population has expanded dramatically and this may be because of a decline in the population of wild dogs. The situation is further aggravated by land abandonment that results in increase of wild habitat. Some villagers, as quoted in the report saying that the relatively recent switch from shifting cultivation to settled cultivation had increased the level of the problem.

“Some crops are difficult to grow: mustard is very attractive to deer and potatoes are popular with wild boar but simple substitution is not possible because these crops have a market,” the report states.

The report also mentions that there is no monitoring on collection of non-timber products from the forest.

With regard to the Langthel range office of the Royal Manas National Park, the report also highlights that there is no managed hunting or fishing. Illegal fishing and poaching still occurs and the report stated that workers from hydropower and road construction carry out most of the illegal activities.

Through an awareness programme on sustainable cultivation of bamboo cane, a committee was established and a small cane plantation was started 20 years ago. However, the project has not grown in years because there was no proper storage space or market to sell.

In the Sephu range office of Wangchuck Centennial Park, the report stated that tigers, snow leopards, bears and wild dogs prey on livestock. Solar electric fencing does not make economic sense as villages are scattered, increasing the net cost. Compensation schemes could not materialise due to limited funds.

Tshering Dorji