YK Poudel

Two southern dzongkhags – Samdrupjongkhar and Samtse – have witnessed 19 percent forest growth in the past five years.

Dzongkhag officials attribute the increase to conservation efforts and natural growth.

The national forest inventory (NFI), conducted between 2021 and 2022, showed forest cover increase to 91 percent in 2023 for Samdrupjongkhar, from 72 in 2016.Samtse witnessed 79 percent growth in 2023 from 60 percent in 2016.

Although the overall forest cover as per NFI has reduced by 1.42 percent – a decrease from 71.13 in 2016 to 69.71 in 2023 – the two dzongkhags saw the highest increase.

Samtse’s forest official said that in general, the dzongkhags in the lower elevation will have more forest growth due to favourable climatic conditions and natural growth. “The dzongkhag has more community forests compared to the past.”

“Developmental activities at major areas such as Dhamdhum Industrial area are located at sites where dredging and forest coverage is already low,” the official said.

The disruption in the forest cover, he said, was minimal with exceptionally low timber felling with just two incidents of forest fire in the past few years. “The million trees plantation project added additional value to the existing forest cover in the dzongkhag.”

According to the NFI report 2023, the country has 64 percent of dense forest and 710 different species of trees.

The total forest cover area is 2,676.545.42 hectares (69.71 percent) out of the total area of 3,839,400 hectares.

During the forest inventory last year, 1,969 plots of the 2,424 were accessible; 455 plots were not, accounting to 84.15 percent of accessibility for study.

NFI defines forest as any land area with trees spanning more than 0.5 hectare with trees higher than 5 metres in height and canopy cover of more than 10 percent.

This means the forest coverage study is inclusive of all types of land meeting the minimum threshold of the forest definition irrespective of the ownership, land use and legal status except the land under permanent agriculture or horticulture crops.

Although Wangdue has the greatest forest area of 258,969.43 hectares, forest cover is only 65.14 percent. On the contrary, Zhemgang has a forest area of 223,067.45 hectares and a forest cover of 94 percent.

The majority of the forest is found in the elevation between 2000 and 3000 metres above sea level, constituting 30 percent of the forest cover of about 855,575.87 hectares.

There is a decrease in forest cover for Gasa, Haa, Lhuentse, Trashiyangtse, and Wangdue.

Recently, Bhutan completed the second phase of a million fruit trees plantation with 1,014,785 saplings planted in the first phase and 1,009,620 saplings planted in the second phase.