Critical conservation programs aren’t being pursued for want of enough funds

Resources: Bhutan may boast of having more than half the country under forest cover but conserving it is an uphill task, say foresters.

Forest officials at the national park conference in the Royal Botanical Park, Lamperi said challenges to conserve the parks and natural resources are mounting with time and lack of investment from the government is further compounding the issue.

Royal Manas National Park manager Tenzin Wangchuk said, “The increasing demand on natural resources is a serious challenge for conservation.”

Annual crop loss to wildlife depredation ranges from 0.3 to 18 percent of the total household income. Livestock depredation is 2.3 percent. These losses are equal to 17 percent of the household’s annual income.

The forest and park services department compensated more than Nu 8.42 million for livestock depredation from 2002-2014.

Annually, a large portion of the government reserve forest (GRF) is released for different development purposes. Forestry department records show that in 2013-14 fiscal year alone, 2,543 acres of GRF land were given for developmental activities including felling of 19,907 trees and 41,930 trees for flagpoles.

“The government has to invest in nursery and plantation programmes to offset the forest cover lost to development activities,” Tenzin Wangchuk said.

Park officials said the government needs to invest more in conservation. They said the ministry in the 11th Plan is allotted the least budget and 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.

“With very limited funding, the department is not in a position to pursue many critical conservation programs,” Tenzin Wangchuk said while presenting the research findings on behalf of his three co-authors.

In the 10th Plan, the ministry was allocated only seven percent of the total outlay.

Paro’s Chief Forest Officer Kaka Tshering said the increasing number of farm roads and power transmission lines poses potential threats to natural resources.

“More farm roads lead to more illegal timber harvesting and other forest-related illegal activities,” he said.

A total of Nu 121.67 million, mainly from donor funds, is invested in different parks between 1997 and 2011 under integrated conservation development programme.

Today, the funds have dwindled and communities have begun to question the efficiency of park managements.

Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve’s manager Namgay Wangchuk said the incentives have to be distributed fairly among the parks. “Or else the communities complain and the objective is defeated,” he said.

Addressing the forest and park officials at the opening of the three-day conference, agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji asked them to deliberate and come up with long-term solutions to the issues including human-wildlife conflict.

“The role of our monarchs has been indispensible in securing our natural heritage and placing the country firmly among those nations providing strong environmental leadership,” Lyonpo said.

He said His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s legacy remains the foundation of sound governance, development and future.

“We would be short sighted to believe that Bhutan today is without any serious challenges to the environmental legacies bequeathed to us,” the minister said.

The changing demography and pressure of globalisation, he said, are bringing in a new set of threats and potential challenges to each and every corner of the country.

Meanwhile, park officials are looking forward to the launching of the Bhutan for Life initiative at the end of this year for better resources.

Tshering Palden