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Conservation approach towards State reserve forests needs a relook

By Sivasish Thakur
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GUWAHATI, June 20 - Vast tracts of reserved forests (RFs) that account for a major part of the State�s total forest cover and the associated biodiversity continue to languish for want of focus by the government. Conservationists believe that the neglect meted out to the RFs exposes the lacunae in the government�s conservation approach.

Given the neglect suffered by the RFs, it�s not surprising that they have borne the brunt of encroachment and illegal logging. Official data put the encroached area in RFs at approximately 3,738 sq km. Another 139 sq km of forests falling under protected areas (wildlife sanctuaries and national parks) continue to be under encroachment.

The worth of the RF network can be gauged from the fact that they, together with proposed reserved forests (PRFs), constitute some 82 per cent of the State�s total classified forest cover. Of the State�s total classified forest cover of 20,898 sq km, RFs (312 RFs covering 13,959 sq km) and PRFs (3,103 sq km) make up 17,062 sq km, as against just 3,836 sq km comprising national parks and sanctuaries. RFs also account for 17.68 per cent of the State�s total geographical territory.

Forest department sources wishing anonymity told The Assam Tribune that a policy shift was essential for protecting the RFs. �RFs have traditionally remained a marginalized area. The existing protection mechanism is inadequate to save them. Their significance in terms of share in total forest cover and overall biodiversity warrants matching security and logistics,� sources said.

Many RFs still constitute prime wildlife habitats � especially for long-ranging animals like elephants and tigers � besides forming contiguous belts with national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

�Aside their role in providing a larger habitat, RFs are critical to ensuring contiguity between different forest belts, especially between protected forests. This is crucial for facilitating a healthy gene pool so essential for long-term well-being of wildlife populations,� sources added.

Today most of the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries resemble islands, as they no longer have the contiguity with nearby forests.

�Widespread destruction of RFs has led to this sorry situation. The intensifying man-elephant conflict and the man-leopard conflict are also a direct fallout of the shrinkage of RFs and loss of animal corridors comprising RFs,� Dr Bibhab Talukdar, secretary general of environmental NGO Aaranyak, said.

According to conservationists, RFs warrant better protection in view of their role as wildlife habitat as well. Recent tiger censuses had traced the presence of a sizeable tiger population outside protected areas, i.e., in RFs, in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. For the State�s large 5,000-plus elephant population, the RFs are indispensable � as a source for both shelter and food. Evidence is there to indicate the occurrence of many other wildlife in RFs.

Advocating the need for according protection to the RFs, especially those forming contiguous belts with protected areas and those having a good concentration of animals, Dr Talukdar said that those RFs bordering sanctuaries and national parks needed to be upgraded to protected areas for boosting conservation.

Some important RF belts that can be upgraded to protected areas include Rani-Garbhanga in Guwahati, Ultapani-Ripu Chirang in Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD), Sonai-Nameri-Behali in Sonitpur, and Upper Dehing-Joypur in Tinsukia, besides a stretch in the Barail hills.

�In addition, some reserve forest belts to the north of Kaziranga in Karbi Anglong merit urgent inclusion in the national park,� Dr Talukdar said.

Forest department sources said that major decisions would have to be made at political levels if the future of the RFs were to be secured.

�Our infrastructure and security are abysmal even in some of the protected areas. It is hardly surprising that RFs are languishing. Unless we adopt a holistic approach towards conservation nothing will materialize,� he said, adding that the bane of organized encroachment backed by political support must be countered to save forests.

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Conservation approach towards State reserve forests needs a relook

GUWAHATI, June 20 - Vast tracts of reserved forests (RFs) that account for a major part of the State�s total forest cover and the associated biodiversity continue to languish for want of focus by the government. Conservationists believe that the neglect meted out to the RFs exposes the lacunae in the government�s conservation approach.

Given the neglect suffered by the RFs, it�s not surprising that they have borne the brunt of encroachment and illegal logging. Official data put the encroached area in RFs at approximately 3,738 sq km. Another 139 sq km of forests falling under protected areas (wildlife sanctuaries and national parks) continue to be under encroachment.

The worth of the RF network can be gauged from the fact that they, together with proposed reserved forests (PRFs), constitute some 82 per cent of the State�s total classified forest cover. Of the State�s total classified forest cover of 20,898 sq km, RFs (312 RFs covering 13,959 sq km) and PRFs (3,103 sq km) make up 17,062 sq km, as against just 3,836 sq km comprising national parks and sanctuaries. RFs also account for 17.68 per cent of the State�s total geographical territory.

Forest department sources wishing anonymity told The Assam Tribune that a policy shift was essential for protecting the RFs. �RFs have traditionally remained a marginalized area. The existing protection mechanism is inadequate to save them. Their significance in terms of share in total forest cover and overall biodiversity warrants matching security and logistics,� sources said.

Many RFs still constitute prime wildlife habitats � especially for long-ranging animals like elephants and tigers � besides forming contiguous belts with national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

�Aside their role in providing a larger habitat, RFs are critical to ensuring contiguity between different forest belts, especially between protected forests. This is crucial for facilitating a healthy gene pool so essential for long-term well-being of wildlife populations,� sources added.

Today most of the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries resemble islands, as they no longer have the contiguity with nearby forests.

�Widespread destruction of RFs has led to this sorry situation. The intensifying man-elephant conflict and the man-leopard conflict are also a direct fallout of the shrinkage of RFs and loss of animal corridors comprising RFs,� Dr Bibhab Talukdar, secretary general of environmental NGO Aaranyak, said.

According to conservationists, RFs warrant better protection in view of their role as wildlife habitat as well. Recent tiger censuses had traced the presence of a sizeable tiger population outside protected areas, i.e., in RFs, in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. For the State�s large 5,000-plus elephant population, the RFs are indispensable � as a source for both shelter and food. Evidence is there to indicate the occurrence of many other wildlife in RFs.

Advocating the need for according protection to the RFs, especially those forming contiguous belts with protected areas and those having a good concentration of animals, Dr Talukdar said that those RFs bordering sanctuaries and national parks needed to be upgraded to protected areas for boosting conservation.

Some important RF belts that can be upgraded to protected areas include Rani-Garbhanga in Guwahati, Ultapani-Ripu Chirang in Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD), Sonai-Nameri-Behali in Sonitpur, and Upper Dehing-Joypur in Tinsukia, besides a stretch in the Barail hills.

�In addition, some reserve forest belts to the north of Kaziranga in Karbi Anglong merit urgent inclusion in the national park,� Dr Talukdar said.

Forest department sources said that major decisions would have to be made at political levels if the future of the RFs were to be secured.

�Our infrastructure and security are abysmal even in some of the protected areas. It is hardly surprising that RFs are languishing. Unless we adopt a holistic approach towards conservation nothing will materialize,� he said, adding that the bane of organized encroachment backed by political support must be countered to save forests.