Waste: Disposal of trash in forestland like recreational areas, picnic spots, trekking routes and tourist sites is a growing problem and concern today.

The officiating chief forest officer with the Department of Forest and Park Services, Wangdi Drukpa, said loads of trash are thrown off cliffs or into thick bushes by the road leading into forests, and along popular trekking routes on government reserve forest (GRF).

Despite putting in place various strategies and methods to prevent waste pollution in forests, the problem is growing and presenting a challenge to implementing agencies.

Wangdi Drukpa said the department has undertaken various measures to prevent and manage waste especially inside the GRFs.

He said as the GRFs are large and have porous borders, preventing waste disposal is a challenge. Inadequate funding and human resources further limits successful implementation of regulations.

For each dzongkhag, certain areas within forestland are reserved for waste disposal sites, officials said. But this has not decreased waste being disposed outside the disposal sites.

Forest officials with the Wangdue forest division said people dump wastes within GRFs, and along the highway both knowingly and unknowingly. Officials said this is tarnishing and endangering the country’s reputation of being clean and green.

A survey by the Wangdue forest division in 2015 found that more than 626 acres of state reserve forestland (SRF) in the Wangdue-Punakha region were littered with solid wastes.

Dumping of wastes in forests has intensified with an increasing number of people visiting forests for various reasons and with more roads leading into and through forests. Waste pollution in forest also poses a serious threat to wildlife due to contamination of air, water and land, officials said.

Some parks and divisions have devised their own waste management mechanisms within their jurisdiction to implement the Waste Prevention and Management Regulation (WPMR) 2012, said the officiating chief, Wangdi Drukpa.

He said places like the Wangchuck Centennial National Park and the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary have introduced monitoring systems for improper dumping of waste. They have also developed fining mechanisms for non-compliance especially by cordyceps collectors, as  areas used by the collectors were found to be the most littered areas.

The Royal Manas National park has initiated a community-based waste management in Norbuling and Sonamthang schools. The community and school store wastes in the schools and sell it in a nearby market with the help of the park. The profits are shared. In that way, the waste generated in that area is addressed, said forest officials.

The officiating chief said that while timber permits are being issued, applicants are told not to dispose of wastes. “We also have clear-cut directives and terms of reference set while issuance of forestry clearances that any waste generated from the activity should be properly disposed of as per the Waste Prevention and Management Regulation 2012.”

He said one of the important steps taken was incorporating waste management in the GRFs as a new topic under the forest and nature conservation rules. This would be another legal backup for implementation of waste regulation inside GRFs.

He added that as per the Waste Prevention and Management Regulation 2012, the office of divisional forests and protected areas are the implementing agencies for waste management within GRFs under respective jurisdictions and the ministry is the monitoring authority.

An annual compliance and monitoring report of the Department of Forests and Park Services was submitted to the National Environment Commission as required by the regulation. The report focuses on progress, failure and challenges faced while implementing the regulation in parks and territorial divisions.

He said for effective implementation of the regulation, the department in 2014 developed a waste management framework, which recommends a planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting phase.

Meanwhile, Wangdi Drukpa said proper waste management awareness and advocacy are  crucial steps towards successful waste management in the community and forest.

However, it could be more effective if there are regular monitoring mechanisms and pragmatic implementing strategies, he said. A multi-sectoral task force at both the national and local community levels are necessary for successful implementation of the new regulation.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue