Bhutan also expresses concern about degradation and losing forests

Environment: More than 200 regional and global experts called for an effective strategy to address the further degradation and fragmentation of mountain forests in the 21stcentury.

Discussing the theory of Himalayan forests degradation at the five-day international symposium on transforming mountain forestry in Dehradun, India, participants from eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya also raised several issues that contribute to the degradation of mountain forests.

They said deforestation, overharvesting, selective logging, excessive lopping, and heavy grazing by domestic livestock continue to affect forest ecosystems across the Hindu Kush region. In some parts, according to participants, the practice of shifting cultivation is contributing further to deforestation.

In Bhutan, Council for RNR Research director general, Namgay Wangchuk, said degradation is taking place due to forest fires, human settlement in and around forests, uncontrolled grazing, indiscriminate mining and quarrying activities, long periods of drought, landslides, pests and diseases.

Namgay Wangchuk also said that Bhutan, which has 70 percent forest cover, is also losing forest because of transmission grid lines. “Wherever transmission lines are installed several trees and young trees have to be cut down resulting (in the) loss (of) some portion of forests,” he said.

Dr Eklabya Sharma of International Centre for Integrated Mountain (ICIMOD) said that the most challenging drivers of forest degradation are cross-border illegal trade of resources and logging which need immediate regional attention. “Other issues that must be addressed urgently are conflicts, forest protection, poaching, human-wildlife tensions, and cross-border concerns.

“Forests and mountains should be well reflected in sustainable development goals,” Dr Sharma said. “This is what the symposium participants and the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas should advocate in 2015.”

He stressed trans-boundary learning (both geographical and disciplinary), knowledge and data sharing, and cooperation are critical.

Namgay Wangchuk also said sharing of knowledge, data, and manpower is essential for the success of trans-boundary cooperation.

The symposium also noted that although forest-dependent communities are increasingly included in forest management to support efforts to arrest deforestation, some argued that participatory forest management is being promoted largely at the cost of state-owned forests.

Participants called for benefit sharing mechanisms for communities to be practiced to stop degradation. They also suggested some of these mechanisms can be established through payment of ecosystem services on hydropower, non-state forest certification involving all stakeholders in the value chain, and implementation of access and benefit sharing under the Naogoya Protocol of Convention on Biological Diversity.

Other non-land based employment opportunities such as ecotourism could also be used for preserving biodiversity hotspots and pristine forests against degradation.

Forests cover about 25 percent of the Hindu Kush Himalayas. They interface with numerous ecosystems, providing an invaluable range of ecosystem services; sequester carbon are the source of livelihoods, recreation, and timber and non-timber resources for millions of people.

According to ICIMOD officials, the ecosystem goods and services from forests sustain mountain agriculture, which is an integral part of ensuring food, water and energy security in the context of trans-boundary socioeconomic, environmental, and cultural linkages of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.

Some forest officials also expressed concern about the declining number of cypress trees and other selective species which is contributing to the degradation of forest. “Demands for selective species like cypress and hardwood are rapidly increasing for the construction of new lhakhangs and renovation of dzongs,” Lobzang Dorjee of the  Department of Forests and Park Services said.

By Rinzin Wangchuk, Dehradun