Forest policy faces multiple challenges

Policy formulators will have to recognise the basic problems constantly faced by forest managers.

The new forest policy draft, being prepared by the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal, is likely to be submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests shortly. The new draft may further emphasise the importance of forestry research and the participatory role of all stakeholders in the management of forests.

The previous forest policy adopted in 1988 had formulated the idea of joint forest management (JFM) as a clear-cut departure from traditional concepts. Further to expanding their role in forest management, the new policy is understood to be formulated on the basis of a systematic and comprehensive feedback from all stakeholders.

Even as this policy is being given the final touches, many states have reportedly stressed the need for a paradigm shift in the role of JFM with a greater emphasis on poverty alleviation programmes and multi-disciplinary projects for eco development and forest conservation.

Last year, while addressing the inaugural session of a symposium in the Forest Research Institute at Dehradun, Director General of International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) David Molden had underlined the urgent necessity for a change in managing forests. He also spoke of the need for trans-boundary cooperation in this regard.

There is no doubt that forests not only provide a wide range of timber and non-timber livelihood resources but also a plethora of ecosystem services. Besides, the paramount role of our increasing national forest cover as a carbon pool in promoting climate change adaptation and mitigation (according to a 2015 Forest Survey of India report) was also acknowledged at the World Forestry Congress held in Durban last September.

In the light of the above facts, policy formulators will have to acknowledge the basic problems constantly encountered by forest managers. A lurking threat to forest health and forest wealth by natural and man-made elements needs focused attention as never before. A healthy forest ecosystem needs a firm implementation of existing conservation laws and, thereby, protection of its biotic resources.

Year after year, the clandesti-ne felling of trees, poaching and wildfires have been eating into the vitals of the nation’s forests. Reports about illicit timber trade, increasing incidence of killing of wild animals and fragmentation of their habitats due to demographic pressures and developmental activities, appear in the media regularly.

Unfortunately, this has been happening despite several forest and wildlife conservation Acts as well as existing wildfire prevention modules and promotional projects such as Project Tiger and Project Elephant.

The forest mafia continues nonchalantly to trade in illicitly acquired rosewood, sandalwood, sal and teakwood, and wild animal parts, as the summer fires ceaselessly devastates hundreds of hectares of prime forests, leading to disappearance of indigenous flora and fauna species, especially in the lower Himalayan region.

The early fire detection system, in place at the Forest Survey of India premises in Dehra-dun since 2004, suffers from certain handicaps as it is depen-dent on temperature threshold, and as such, is not successful in the colder lower Himalayan region. It is high time serious effo-rts are made towards finding the causes behind this and mapping out remedial measures.

Implementation gap

There seems to be a gap in the official regulations, plans, projects and programmes and their necessary implementation. Conservation, new research funding, extension programmes and biodiversity protection must certainly take priority over everything else in a time-bound manner. The 10 protected areas in the country, which include national parks and bio-sphere zones must be under constant surveillance.

Many states have been facing serious problems pertaining to plant and tree survivals. Ground-breaking research must be taken up in the area of plant pathology, entomology, tree breeding, tissue culture and utilisation of forest projects, including composite wood.
There is also a need to protect unique wildlife of the country as some species are said to be on the verge of extinction. In Uttarakhand, these species include brown bear, flying squirrel, Burmese python, musk deer, snow leopard and blue sheep. It is feared that the musk deer has already become extinct. The ongoing man-animal conflict due to various man-made reasons, too, need attention. Big cats continue to kill humans at regular intervals due to loss of habitat and shortage of prey.

Researchers in the 17 units and sub-units of the Indian Co-uncil of Forestry Research and Education scattered all over the country have been said to be facing a paucity of funds. The units should be upgraded and funded properly in order to strengthen lab-to-land programmes.

It is also generally found that in many states, forest field staff is fewer than the required number while the number of the Indian Forest Service (IFS) cadre officers is much more than necessary. Hence, a through review of the forest administration run by IFS officers in the states is called for. Time has come when the role of a hapless, lowly-paid, unarmed forest guard is played by a properly trained, forest protection force along the lines of the Railway Protection Force.

(The writer is a Dehradun-based senior journalist)

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