GUWAHATI, June 15 - The sheer neglect meted out to the vast tracts of reserved forests (RFs) that account for much of the State�s total forest cover and its biodiversity, exemplifies the loopholes in the Government authorities� conservation strategy.
Conservationists believe that unabated encroachment and illegal logging in RFs pose the biggest environmental threat in the State today. Official data put the encroached area in RFs at approximately 3,555 sq km. Another 159.69 sq km of forests falling under protected areas (wildlife sanctuaries and national parks) continue to be under encroachment.
Forest sources, which chose to remain anonymous, admitted that the RFs had traditionally been a marginalised area, receiving little protection despite their immense significance from the point of conservation. �What the Government needs to do is to change its policy on RFs and put in place a strong security mechanism. Many RFs still constitute prime wildlife habitat, besides forming contiguous belts with national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, ensuring in the process some much-needed contiguity between different forest belts. This is crucial for long-term well-being of wildlife population,� sources said.
The significance of RFs lies on many counts. Together with proposed reserved forests, they constitute around 82 per cent of the State�s total classified forest cover. Of the State�s total classified forest cover of 20,898 sq km, the RFs (312 RFs covering 13,959 sq km) and PRFs (3,103 sq km) make up 17,062 sq km, as against just 3,925 sq km comprising national parks and sanctuaries. The RFs also account for 17.68 per cent of the State�s total geographical territory.
Forest 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 the RFs are languishing. Unless we adopt a holistic approach towards conservation, nothing will materialize,� sources said, adding that organised encroachment often enjoyed political support.
Many of the protected areas across the State today resemble islands, as they no longer have the contiguity with nearby forests � something vital for the success of long-term conservation.
�This has happened because of widespread destruction of reserved forests due to encroachment. The intensifying man-elephant conflict is also a direct fallout of the loss of animal corridors and habitat formed by reserved forests,� Dr Bibhab Talukdar, secretary general of environmental NGO Aaranyak, said.
From the point of wildlife concentration too, RFs warrant better protection. Recent tiger censuses had traced the presence of a sizeable tiger population outside protected areas across the country. In Assam and Arunachal Pradesh also, evidence indicate the presence of many animals in the RFs.