The forests play a crucial role in maintaining the delicate natural environment of Bangladesh. In the final installment of a four-part series, the Dhaka Tribune’s Barguna correspondent Tariqul Islam investigates the menace of illegal logging
The coastal city of Barguna is home to a planted forest covering 65,000 acres.
However, the local branch of the Forest Department lacks the required number of officials and guards to protect the area.
Trees are being cut down for profit by illegal logging operations, putting the forest at serious risk.
The Forest Department currently employs only 95 personnel to guard thousands of acres of forest land.
It claims that no illegal logging operations are being conducted, even though hundreds of tree stumps can be found in the forest.
According to sources, gangs of robbers are illegally cutting down trees to make a hefty profit, while influential locals are also violating the law to collect firewood.
Insiders claimed that the department is unable to bring these parties to justice.
Patharghata upazila has around 9,500 acres of forest land in total, but only 28 forest officers and guards tasked with protecting it.
The sheer size of the forest makes theirs an impossible task.
“Unless we are provided with the manpower we need, we will not be able to stop the poachers and illegal loggers,” a Forest Department official, on condition of anonymity, said.
Visiting the Haringhata forest region of Patharghata, the Dhaka Tribune learned that loggers have used the cover of darkness to llegally cut down large trees such as Chaila, Kawra, and Gewa.
Even trees planted as part of the green belt on sides of highways have been illegally felled.
According to locals, the harvested tree logs are transported away through the waterways before sunrise.
Many of the same people are also involved in deer poaching in the nearby Sundarbans.
“We need to organize 24-hour patrols in Patharghata. We also need more experienced officials and guards,” the official said.
The 14,000-acre Tengragiri forest reserve is located at Taltoti under Barguna District. The region is looked after by an insufficient team of eight officials - and one of them mans the ticket counter for visiting tourists.
Even though the forest land is dissected by dozens of canals, the department has no water vessels there.
Exploiting this oversight, illegal operators are using the canals and the sea to enter the forest, cut down trees, and transport the logs away with impunity.
As such, the stumps of large trees cut down by loggers remains a common sight in Tengragiri.
Addressing the issue, a bit officer of the Tengragiri reserve forest, Md Jahid Pramanik, told the Dhaka Tribune that they do not have the manpower to curb the illegal logging operation.
“The forestland in this region is huge (and) we are making a serious effort to prevent illegal logging, with the personnel available to us,” he said.
“Several cases have already been filed against some culprits. We have also sought the help of locals to prevent the theft of trees.”
Jahid stressed that it is difficult for the forest guards to patrol the large forestland effectively. Exploiting this opportunity, culprits and local influential people are cutting down trees unopposed.
The loggers are not only operating at night. Rain Trees planted on the embankment in Nishanbaria area of Barguna are being felled in broad daylight.
The Dhaka Tribune witnessed local influential people employing labourers to cut down trees and chop up branches. However, these individuals left the area in a hurry after sensing the presence of a reporter.
Several labourers, preferring to remain anonymous, said they are working to feed their families. When asked about the identities of their employers, they refused to disclose any details in fear of retaliation.
Other locals told the Dhaka Tribune that a large number of trees are being cut down in the region, but the Forest Department does not have nearly enough personnel to curb illegal logging there.
Barguna Forest Department acting in-charge (Range Officer) Md Motiar Rahman told this correspondent: “We do not have the required manpower for thorough monitoring of the area.
“Whenever we get a tip off that someone is cutting trees or branches, we rush there and take legal action.”