ANANDA KAFLEDecline in forest areas is increasingly becoming a matter of public concern in Nepal. Commercial logging, conversion of forests into cultivable land and felling trees for construction works are major causes of loss of forests. Following political transformation in 1990, deforestation reached its peak. Apparently, the trees were felled to resettle landless people. However, many wood racketeers took undue advantage of this situation under political protection and started smuggling timbers.
Needless to say, trees are important in maintaining environmental balance. Trees check soil erosion and landslides. They filter water and play major role in maintaining climatic balance and proper rain cycle. Forests are homes to diverse species of plants and animals. The widely focused menaces of carbon dioxide emission and global warming can be mitigated by plants which consume large excess of carbon dioxide and produce higher amounts of oxygen.
But news of seizure of loads of illegally drawn forest products and confrontations between loggers and security forces paint a bleak picture of forest conditions in the country. In paper, there are strong legal provisions against those involved in felling trees and transporting them. But more often than not, common people get trapped in the labyrinthine legal procedures for their minor offenses. They may need to engage themselves for years in defending against the charges of forest offenses. But senior forest officials and security personnel involved in facilitating the illegal export of timber are often given pardon. This raises question over the trustworthiness of their commitments. People in villages are not getting wood even to make a chair, while tons of valuable logs are being systematically smuggled.
Green forest has become a repository of gold for smugglers. They exploit this ‘store’ secretly in the night or in appropriate times when their activities can be hidden from the public sight. There are also other systematic ways for the thieves. Those include the planned clearing of forest based on mass consent. Members of the ‘community forest’ and Forest Consumer Groups first agree to fell trees in certain specified areas. In documentation the revenues obtained are meant to be spent in the sectors of public benefits like establishing schools and health posts. But once logging starts, the deforesters rapidly cross their limits, rampantly destroying forests and dividing a large portion of revenue among themselves.
Smugglers have also been taking undue advantages of the government plans of removing old trees from community forests. They first obtain permits to fell old, hollow and dead tree trunks. After entering into the jungle they start damaging younger and well thriving trees. They peel off the bark, pass toxic chemicals into tree-trunks or destroying their roots. After a couple of months those trees get dried up and become ‘suitable’ for chopping. In this way, the forest racketeers, instead of limiting themselves to naturally dead trees, artificially make them die and pull them along with low quality timber.
Government conservation plans present a sequence of failures. Its token efforts are being challenged by smugglers and corrupt officials. Restrictions on chopping trees seem to be a mere scarecrow to show how difficult it is to acquire wood. Therefore, common people also tend to amass unnecessarily large quantity of timber whenever they get the opportunity. The efforts on forest management are limited in conserving the primary forest. The need of finding solutions and alternatives for the public demand of timber is utterly neglected. Afforestation and reforestation programs are lacking.
Afforestation constitutes plantation of trees in a piece of land where there is no forest. Pieces of lands which are either unused or deserted can be afforested with appropriate plant species. Such artificially grown forests can be used for commercial logging and supplying timber. Fast growing and cosmopolitan plant species like Paulownia and bamboo can be best choices for generating artificial forests. Paulownia is a broad leaved shade tree that yields light and strong timber suitable for direct use or for processing. It can be grown in a variety of landscapes having moderate water supply. In addition to good quality wood, this plant can be a good source for palatable fodder for livestock and nectar for bee farming.
Similarly, bamboo has diverse utilities ranging from currying or pickling to construction and making useful artifacts. Bamboo trees are quite efficient at carbon sequestering and producing oxygen. Several species of this grass plant can be grown in various climates ranging from very hot to fairly cold. Many other indigenous and non-indigenous species can be found for planting in particular geographical location.
If the government really wants to save forest, mere attempts to keep natural forest intact won’t be enough. The foresters are also required to promote the concept of afforestation and properly managed wood logging. This will help on one hand to expand the existing forest area while on the other for meeting with the public demand of timber. It will ultimately reduce deforestation of the primary forest.
Earlier Published in Republica- September 24, 2014