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New guidelines to iron out old problems

Forest: Forest officials at the districts, divisional offices or parks will conduct joint annual monitoring and audit books and accounts of community forest management groups (CFMG), hereafter.

This team will also evaluate the community forests every five years and if found unsatisfactory, would revoke it.

This is one of the sections in the general guidelines for the community forest establishment and implementation that resumed in September last year after it was suspended for a year.

Chief forestry officer of social forestry, Gyeltshen Dukpa, said the new guidelines were prepared after an extensive study of the existing system.

The forest department conducted a two-month independent study in April and May last year after the processes was suspended in September 9, 2013.

“After discussions within the department and considering all the issues in the study report, the guidelines were framed to address the loopholes in the system,” Gyeltshen said.

Gyeltshen said the report identified, besides the many positive aspects, weaknesses in about seven broad aspects of CFMG from planning, implementation to monitoring, and group governance, among others.

Problems in area identification and boundary demarcation rose from lack of proper consultation with stakeholders, site selection criteria not applied as a result of which some community forests are far from communities, and unclear boundaries leading to overlaps and conflicts, among others.

Some of the members didn’t understand the management plans or the policies, poor implementation of the planned activities, poor book and records keeping.

The CFMGs will now be translated into Dzongkha and the gewog forest extension officer will have to help the CFMGs to prepare and implement these activities hereafter. He will also retain the tree marking hammer to curb illegal felling in the CFMGs.

“In the Zhemgang case, the chairman was accused of embezzlement whereas after investigation we discovered the money was spent but it was not recorded properly,” the chief forest officer said.

The study also found that monitoring and evaluation were not done as mandated.

The dzongkhag forest officer will now organise two coordination meetings each year with the division forest officer or the park manager and other relevant parties to sort out issues. The CFMGs can’t sell standing trees.

To allow members to generate more income, the area ceiling of 2.5 hectares is lifted and the community forest areas would now be guided by forest type, resource availability, and management objectives.

The community forests within tsamdro and sokshing would be processed upon enforcement of Tsamdro and Sokshing guidelines.

The executive members of the CFMGs would be trained to help better implement the plans and activities.

“With the new guidelines we hope there would no major problems hereafter,” he said.

Besides improving the livelihood of the members, one major achievement was decline in forest fire incidents.

“After the establishment of community forests, there has been no incidence of forest fires in them for the last five years, which goes to show that the members have taken care of the community forests,” Gyeltshen Dukpa said.

The division has a target of establishing 750 CFMGs by the end of the 11th Plan.

“We’re certain to reach 600 by May end,” Gyeltshen said.

The forest department would dedicate the accomplishment, with a celebration, to the 60th birth anniversary of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo who founded the community forest initiative through a Royal decree in the early 1980s.

There were 556 community forests in September 2013, and 561 today. The division has 40 proposals at hand.

Community forest establishments gathered momentum from 2007

Lifting the suspension in September last year, the forest department director general wrote that while the pending plans are to be critically reviewed, those dzongkhag forest officials are asked to personally review the final drafts before submitting for final technical review to the Social Forestry and Extension Division.

The highest number of community forests was seen in 2012 when 136 of them were formed.

By Tshering Palden

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