Wednesday May 24, 2017 02:39 AM

Saving our forests, and all creatures who dwell in them

Saving our forests,  and all creatures who dwell in them
Our jungle creatures are our shared responsibility/SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

We need to conserve all our plants and animals if we wish to save our biodiversity

It is well known to all that we are losing our forests and forest biodiversity at an alarming rate. But what is the rate? The answer is a bit confusing.

The annual deforestation rate ranges from 0.2% to 3%. But who is answering the question and who conducted the research? Don’t be confused; yes, sometimes research may be purposive, especially in Bangladesh — sometimes it is conducted to open your mouth, and sometimes it aims to shut you up.

Please, forget those research studies and confusing figures. Just go for a hike to your nearest forest-protected areas. Have you enjoyed the woodland and sound of wild creatures? If yes, go for another walk after some months. Don’t forget to hike through the same trail where you enjoyed your previous walk. Your eyes will answer the question: How rapidly are we losing our forests?

Please do not be frustrated. We still have lots of biodiversity resources, but the question is for how many days we will be able to keep them alive.

Fortunately, Bangladesh is part of the Indo-Myanmar region, which is one of the 10 global hot-spot areas for biodiversity. Due to its unique geo-physical location and characteristics, Bangladesh is characterised as an exceptionally rich biological diversity. Its flora includes an estimated 5,700 species of angiosperms alone, including 68 woody legume species, 130 species of fiber-yielding plants, 500 medicinal plant species, 29 orchid species, three species of gymnosperms, and 1,700 pteridophytes.

Correspondingly, Bangladesh also possesses rich faunal diversity, and has approximately 113 species of mammals, more than 628 species of birds, 126 species of reptiles, 22 species of amphibians, 708 species of marine and freshwater fish, 2,493 species of insects, 19 species of mites, 164 species of algae (or seaweed), and four species of echinoderms.

Bangladesh’s position is the key factor for such a rich biological diversity. Geographically, Bangladesh is situated in the junction of Indo-Malay and Indo-China sub-regions. Therefore, it contains plants and animals of these two sub-regions. Furthermore, as Bangladesh is situated in the eastern part of Indian sub-continent, it becomes the venue of plant and animals of both South and South-east Asia.

Indeed, Bangladesh’s forests are also still enriched with both flora and fauna, though they used to be cleared off regularly by human being in search of habitat and livelihood. Arannayk Foundation, a joint venture organisation of government of the US and Bangladesh, has taken an initiative to count the plant and wildlife species of the country’s biodiversity hotspots.

Without involving all stake-holders, including the surrounding communities, forest officials, even in large numbers with modern equipment, may not be able to secure proper protection

So far, their study unveiled biodiversity resources of four protected areas and one reserve forest. The study findings represent Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary within an area of 764 hectares contains 691 species of plants and 492 species of wildlife; Teknaf wildlife sanctuary with an area of 11,615 hectares contains 538 species of plants and 613 species of wildlife; Rema-Kalenga wildlife sanctuary with an area of 1,795 hectares contains 618 species of plants and 537 species of wildlife; Dudpukuria-Dhopachari Wildlife Sanctuary, with an area of 4,717 hectares, contains 608 species of plants and 575 species of wildlife.

The above-stated figures indicate that the forest biodiversity resources of the country are still rich and trying their best to remain alive in the country.

Like protected areas, natural forests are the key repository of our forest bio-diversity resources. Unfortunately, we do not have many natural forests. Rather, you may observe exotic species like Teak and Acacia’s monoculture plantations everywhere. Those plantations are not the home of jungle creatures, rather they are merely a production unit for wood. Worldwide, scientists are demanding to consider the forest as a ground for ecosystem services, and a sink of carbon, rather than as a wood production unit.

However, the Chittagong Hill Tracts is the area where once we had enormous natural forests. The CHT comprises a greater part of the hill forests of Bangladesh, forested areas in the CHT make up almost 43% of total forestlands in Bangladesh. But during the last century, commercial plantations with largely teak (Tectona grandis) plants replaced the large portion of natural forests. Moreover, huge migration of mainland people during the 80s and after peace treaty added an extra burden to forest creatures to remain alive.

Although indigenous people have widely been blamed for degrading CHT’s forest resources through the practice of shifting cultivation, in reality, they are still prime conservers of our natural forests.

They traditionally maintain a common forest area, which is known as Village Common Forest (VCF), or Parabon, or Mouza reserve, etc, and these VCFs are essentially repositories of food, biodiversity, and medicinal plants.

Some researchers argued that their management has set a standard model for the protection of biodiversity, environment, and natural resources. A recent biodiversity assessment study indicates that VCFs are quite rich in terms of biodiversity resources compared to government-managed reserve forests in the CHT.

The study identified the presence of 33 species of amphibians, 61 species of reptiles, 187 species of birds, and 38 species of mammals in small VCF situated in Rangamati, which has an area of only 68.7 hectares. The VCF also includes 113 species of plants, of which 39 species are trees. There are more than 300 such VCFs in Bangladesh.

However, it is true that our jungles and jungle creatures are vanishing rapidly, and our forest management modalities and efforts need to be revisited or adjusted. Without involving all stake-holders including the surrounding communities, forest officials, even in large numbers with modern equipment, may not be able to secure proper protection.

Political commitment, especially of local leaders and the elite’s commitment is very much needed to halt the high rate of deforestation and forest degradation. Conserving the existing natural forest should be a major priority of the Bangladesh Forest Department, instead of creating plantations by clearing the natural forests.

The use of remote sensing in forest could help the top management and decision-makers to secure governance in forest management. Moreover, Geographic Information System (GIS) and remote sensing will also help reduce corruption in forest management.

The attitude of custodian authority also needs to be revisited. Respecting other stake-holders’ opinions in forest management may develop a sense of ownership among stake-holders and communities of state forests.

When the surrounded community feels that this is their own forest, they will protect the forest and forest resources at any cost.

When you ask someone to carry your own goods, he or she may feel some burden, but when you ask them to carry goods that they share ownership with, they may feel honoured, not burdened.

We cannot wait for those days, when our forest eco-systems become gammy to deliver the fruits of life. Unfortunately, it is true that our life and livelihoods are very much interlinked to our forest eco-system — without them our people will not be able to earn their livelihoods — especially those who live below or around poverty line. To have a healthy forest eco-system, we have to conserve all the creatures of our forest, both plant and animals, from tiny to mammoth-sized.

Abdul Mannan is a forestry expert. He currently works as program officer of Arannayk Foundation.

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