Taking ownership of resources
Villagers of two gewogs in Pemagatshel have submitted a petition to the dzongkhag office. They want the dzongkhag to intervene and stop felling of trees in the catchment area.
If the request is not influenced by any reason other than on environmental grounds, as claimed by the villagers, we have to laud the villagers. If they are aware of the impact of rampant logging on the environment, there is every reason for them to ban the activity.
For those making decisions, it is one of the easiest requests that can be granted. Such a petition could be as scarce as timber at a time when timber is in huge demand and expensive, a result of the rapid economic development. Foresters are monitoring illegal logging and quite often villagers are apprehended for illegal felling trees. Authorities are always on their toes as rural timber subsidy is misused and forest exploited.
Therefore, when such requests come from villagers, it is encouraging.
We have had the good fortune of being a late developer and to learn from others’ mistake when it came to environment conservation. We have strict legislation that protects our resources and the environment, but when economic opportunities clash with the environment, implementing the laws and regulations becomes a challenge.
The best way to protect or to ensure sustainable use of our natural resources is giving or taking ownership of the resources. If people understands the value of the environment and take ownership, it is better than any legislation.
This value is there with our ancestors. When they made people believe that cutting down trees around a lake could enrage the local deity and bring misfortune, it was one way of discouraging people from cutting down trees.
Today, the logic might have changed, but the purpose remains the same. With reports of drying water sources, decreasing water in lakes and water catchment areas coming under threat, taking ownership of local resources is the best solution. It will ensure that the resources are not consumed by one greedy generation and the next pays for it.
It is also an indication that the consistent campaign is having an impact, that people understand the value of a pristine environment and that this is now being converted into action.
A good example is the community forest, where the community takes ownership of the local forest from management to resource sharing. Community forest has become so popular that those after commercial timber are finding that communities own every inch of forest. Across the country, 200 community forests have covered 24,996 hectares of forestland. And this is as of 2009. There are many waiting to be handed over to the community.
The saving grace, however, is the realization that taking ownership of natural resources can benefit communities at large, while the scarce resources is managed sustainably.
Survey to determine elephant population
Wildlife: Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), the wild giants people revere and forebode as well have long been misery for the farmers south of the country. Yet we do not know how many of them are there in the wild.
Pinning down on number is essential, not only for the formulation of conservation policies, but also to help farmers protect their crops from the marauding quadrupeds.
Good news is the Department of Parks and Services (DoFPS) launched first nationwide elephant survey on March 3 at Singye in Sarpang to mark World Wildlife Day. While International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that there are about 200-500 elephants in Bhutan, the country lacks its precise population figure. Thus, the survey will help determine the population of Asian elephant in Bhutan.
Park manager of the Royal Manas National Park (RMNP), Tenzin Wangchuk said as of there is no authentic figure on elephant population in Bhutan.
“The main objective of the survey is to determine elephant population in Bhutan,” Tenzin Wangchuk said.
Forestry officials will survey the southern belt from Samtse in the southwest to Jomotsangkha in the southeast, through the protected areas such as RMNP, Phibsoo and Jomotsangkha Wildlife Sanctuaries.
Species conservation and monitoring section senior forestry officer, Sonam Wangdi said forestry official would have begun the study from March 8. “The study is the first systematic survey conducted to determine the population of elephant,” Sonam Wangdi said.
At RMNP, officials are already prepared to venture to the fields. “We have completed grouping, field protocol and logistics arrangements. Some teams are already on their way to the survey areas,” Tenzin Wangchuk said.
The nationwide survey will use dung method, which is considered suitable and efficient technique globally for elephant survey. The technique draws Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from dung to determine the population.
“The animal population can be determined through collection of DNA from as many dung, which tentatively is planned to be sent to Guwahati in India,” Sonam Wangdi said.
Tenzin Wangchuk said that the survey will also enable DoFPS to understand which region of the country has the highest concentration of elephants.
“By understanding the migration pattern, we can mitigate human conflict with elephants,” Tenzin Wangchuk said.
The outcome of the study will also help manage human-wildlife conflict holistically in the long-run without having to fence the animal off Sonam Wangdi said.
The senior forestry official said the survey is also to understand threats to the elephant from developmental activities like road constructions and agricultural expansion.
Earlier, officials found construction of road between Bangtar and Samrang through elephant route unfriendly for the giants. Constructions have created steep slopes, making it difficult for the herd to cross.
“The survey will help reduce such habitat damages through sensitization and awareness programmes to people” Sonam Wangdi said.
DoFPS has also recently GPS collard its fifth elephant from RMNP. This will help department officials to understand the animal’s home range, migration pattern and habitat utilization. So far, two male and three female elephants from Samrang, Sarpang, Phibsoo and RMNP have been radio collared after DoFPS started first collaring in March 2014.
The radio-collaring programme will also help officials understand whether the elephant is completely dependent on agricultural crops.
Sonam Wangdi said elephants in Bhutan suffer no threats from poaching. But habitat loss due to developmental activities and electrocution are two serious threats to elephants in Bhutan.
“So, electric fence is given to the communities sharing habitat with elephant in order that no live current is used to fence their farms, which could risk the lives of elephants,” Sonam Wangdi said.
Hotels in Bumthang goes meatless on auspicious months
Some 70 hotels and eateries in Bumthang have offered meatless menu since the first month of the Bhutanese calendar.
In June last year, members of the Bumthang Hotel Association concurred on the move of not serving meat meals to guests during auspicious months of the Bhutanese Calendar. First and fourth months are auspicious months.
According to the President of Bumthang Family Run Hotel Association, Pema Dawa, this initiative has helped hoteliers in reducing wasteful expenditure as they need not have to buy meat in bulk. Furthermore, the president said it will save lives of animals.
Some hotel owners said at first, customers asked for meat items but eventually they were fine with the no meat menu.
Meanwhile, Bumthang’s representative for Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Ugyen Sangay added that hoteliers have unanimously agreed and signed a petition to not to serve meat items. Bumthang’s Thromde Thuemi, Karma Lekden also shared till date, none of the hotel owners have disliked the initiative.
Other than hotels and eateries, the Dzongkhag Administration has refrained from serving meat at official congregations and events. Few years ago, the government banned the sale of meat products during the auspicious months in the country. But, hotels and restaurants were allowed to serve meat products.
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