Villagers of two gewogs in Pemagatshel have submitted a petition to the dzongkhag office. They want the dzongkhag to intervene and stop felling of trees in the catchment area.

If the request is not influenced by any reason other than on environmental grounds, as claimed by the villagers, we have to laud the villagers. If they are aware of the impact of rampant logging on the environment, there is every reason for them to ban the activity.

For those making decisions, it is one of the easiest requests that can be granted. Such a petition could be as scarce as timber at a time when timber is in huge demand and expensive, a result of the rapid economic development. Foresters are monitoring illegal logging and quite often villagers are apprehended for illegal felling trees.  Authorities are always on their toes as rural timber subsidy is misused and forest exploited.

Therefore, when such requests come from villagers, it is encouraging.

We have had the good fortune of being a late developer and to learn from others’ mistake when it came to environment conservation. We have strict legislation that protects our resources and the environment, but when economic opportunities clash with the environment, implementing the laws and regulations becomes a challenge.

The best way to protect or to ensure sustainable use of our natural resources is giving or taking ownership of the resources. If people understands the value of the environment and take ownership, it is better than any legislation.

This value is there with our ancestors. When they made people believe that cutting down trees around a lake could enrage the local deity and bring misfortune, it was one way of discouraging people from cutting down trees.

Today, the logic might have changed, but the purpose remains the same. With reports of drying water sources, decreasing water in lakes and water catchment areas coming under threat, taking ownership of local resources is the best solution. It will ensure that the resources are not consumed by one greedy generation and the next pays for it.

It is also an indication that the consistent campaign is having an impact, that people understand the value of a pristine environment and that this is now being converted into action.

A good example is the community forest, where the community takes ownership of the local forest from management to resource sharing. Community forest has become so popular that those after commercial timber are finding that communities own every inch of forest. Across the country, 200 community forests have covered 24,996 hectares of forestland. And this is as of 2009. There are many waiting to be handed over to the community.

The saving grace, however, is the realization that taking ownership of natural resources can benefit communities at large, while the scarce resources is managed sustainably.