KHALINGDUAR (UDALGURI), Dec 29 - Timber smugglers that are denuding vast stretches of forests in Assam�s border areas are also operating inside Bhutan�s territory, felling trees with alarming frequency in recent times.
In Udalguri district, which has a large stretch of forests along the Bhutan border, timber smugglers are increasingly falling upon Bhutan�s forests by using the routes from the Assam side.
The problem gets compounded for Bhutan as it does not have roads inside its forest near the Assam border, effectively hindering patrolling and monitoring.
�Without support from the Indian (Assam) side, it is impossible to stop illegal logging. Timber smugglers enter Bhutan through the Assam side and indulge in tree felling,� Ugeyen Tshering, Park Manager, Jomotshankha Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhutan, told The Assam Tribune.
According to the official, the Kherkheri area located above the Corramore Tea Estate is a hotbed of timber smugglers and little had been done by the Assam authorities to check their depredation.
�Tree felling has been rampant and at the current rate, the entire area will lose its forest cover in a couple of years,� he added.
Tshering rued that the existence of an SSB camp on the Assam side of the border had been no hindrance to stop the illegal activities.
Bhutan�s forest authorities, who have called for a joint mechanism to deal with the menace, also warned that deforestation in Bhutan would ultimately trigger serious environmental problems in downstream Assam.
�It is painful to see trees being felled and timber smuggled with impunity. Deforestation on our hills will cause streams to dry up and drastically impact water availability for drinking purpose and for paddy fields in downstream Assam,� he said.
Of late, Bhutan has also been witnessing a serious man-elephant conflict, which ironically, is a fallout of the rampant deforestation in the Assam side along the Indo-Bhutan border. In the latest instance, two persons were killed by elephants in Bhutan near the Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary.
According to the Department of Forest and Park Services, Bhutan, repeated raids on cropland have emerged as a disturbing concern in Bhutan. It attributed the phenomenon to �habitat degradation in India� and �large-scale tea plantation�.
According to Bhutan officials, the Assam forest authorities need to take the matter of deforestation inside Assam along the Assam-Bhutan border seriously.
�The ongoing deforestation has to be checked and degraded forest habitat regenerated. We do have a joint mechanism with wildlife NGOs and the Assam forest department for joint trans-boundary management and the collaboration needs to be strengthened and expanded,� he added.
The conflict escalates in Bhutan during the period from March to September coinciding with the cropping season.
Wildlife activist and Honorary Wildlife Warden Jayanta Kumar Das, who has been working in the border areas, said that the move to create an uninterrupted green corridor as a part of enhanced trans-border cooperation in conservation, by according protection to the contiguous belts of forests in the two countries, should be realized for securing a vast elephant habitat.
�We do have some trans-boundary forest arrangement protocols in Manas and Royal Manas national parks. A similar mechanism should be put in place for the border forests in Udalguri district,� Das added.
The Bhutan jungles shelter some 800 elephants across an elephant habitat of 2,000 sq km. Elephants are known to move up to altitudes as high as 3,000 metres.