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Conserving for development

Coinciding with the birth anniversary of His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen launched the Bhutan for Life initiative to protect the country’s network of protected areas.

What is Bhutan for Life? We need to understand this. It is a joint initiative of the government and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to ensure that Bhutan remains economically and environmentally sustainable. The initiative ensures that there is sustainable funding to manage Bhutan’s protected areas, which account for more than 51 percent of the country, the highest percentage of land designated as protected in Asia. Perhaps even in the world.

But what does the initiative really mean? We need to understand this. Conservation of natural environment often is seen from one perspective, so much like gender inequality. There are many vantage points indeed.

We have been fortunate that our visionary monarchs led us along incredible journey of conservation. We are among few countries that give special importance to our environment. But the future may not really be about letting our forest resources die and decay. If conservation doesn’t benefit the people, the whole effort doesn’t really make sense.

It is expected that through this initiative about 51 percent of Bhutan’s Protected Areas (PA) can generate environmental friendly economic opportunities with timely and right level of investments. Proper management of protected areas will ensure that the country’s 5 million-acre network of forests and rivers will be protected against poaching, illegal logging and other threats.

When the country opened its door to outside world in the early 1960, the government pinned hope in the rich forest cover to finance its socioeconomic development aspirations. Ropeways were planned to harvest and transport timbers along the riverways. That was a time when forestry was driving the economy of the nation. Nothing came of it, however.

Bhutan in 2015 imported wood products worth Nu 2.6 billion and exported products worth mere Nu 0.35 billion. This is the figure from a country with over 80 percent forest cover. Experts say that according to Forestry Master Plan, we can safely extract 1.2 million m3 of timber. The total growing stock of timber has grown by 89 percent from 529 million m3 in 1981 to 1001 million in 2016.

What this indicates is that we are not managing our rich forest resource. We are instead locking it up. Experts say that locking up forest is not good for ecology, wildlife, and environment. They say that given the favourable condition of large forest cover and small population, conservation and development can co-exist in Bhutan in a harmonious manner.

Bhutan for Life is aimed at conserving and using our rich natural resources efficiently. At long last some silver lining we see in the far-off clouds.

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