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Bhutan's forests: the real picture
Bhutan has a forest cover of 64.35 percent of its land area and not 72.5 percent as it has often been quoted.
With about 100,000 trees felled every year and about 1,000 acres of forest land lost to development activities, mining, and forest fires the actual tree-covered forest is declining, said officials at the conference.

"The 72.5 percent figure was derived in 1983," said Dr. Sangay Wangchuk of the nature conservation division. "It will not be correct today. It is a myth."

The director general of department of forest, Dasho Dawa Tshering, explained that the 72.5 percent forest cover, as projected by the satellite image had included river basins, shrubs and all the uninhabited land and, therefore, had not revealed the correct picture of actual forest cover.

"It is true that we have been losing forest cover to the increasing demand for forest resources, and the demand is increasing each year," he added.

This he attributes to the large-scale construction all over the country. The growing real estate, construction of roads, schools, health centres and gup's offices in the districts cleared away significant chunks of forest land.

Mining activities were also on the rise. About 50 applications seeking forestry clearance for mining was lying with the department at the moment and forest fires were common during the dry winters, the director general added.

Officials at the conference said that most data still being used were actually of the second satellite survey carried out in 1989 and published in 1995.

One official said that no study or survey had been carried out since as it entailed huge expenditure.

"But we have everyday records showing how much forest is cleared for development activities, for mining, and by forest fires. We cannot therefore, quantify, but we are losing from the 64.5 percent."

Prime Minister and minister for agriculture, Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, said that the country had lost about 2,737 acres of forest to development activities, about 975 acres to mining, stone and sand quarries and about 19 acres annually to forest fires. About 2.1 million cubic feet of timber annually, or about 100,000 trees, was used and 1.1 percent of the forest was considered degraded.

He pointed that, at this rate, maintaining a 60 percent forest cover, as spelled out by the forestry policy and as mandated by the National Assembly, would be difficult.

"The threats our forest reserves is facing today is genuine and the consequences of a depleting forest would be severe on the socio-economy of the country," said Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup.

Forestry officials and conservationists across the country presented studies, research findings on sustaining forest resources, enhancing the image of forestry, institutional strengthening and human resource development and on natural resource management.

The 'Forest Management Code of Bhutan' was also launched at the conference. Hailed as the 'bible' of the department, the document that took six years to compile guards and warrants scientific forest management plans based on field analysis, according to Dasho Dawa Tshering.

This article was contributed by Bishal Rai, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspapaper

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