More guards needed to protect forests

Photo courtesy: Dago Tshering(RSPN)

In the wake of old problems persisting and new and improvised ones popping-up, compact and efficient, the government’s mantra for the civil service may not really be the way to go in the case of forest officials and park rangers whose numbers remain inadequate.

Most of the foresters and Park Managers The Bhutanese talked to said that the slogan is best for things that are to do with the brain and not for those who use ‘eyes’ and ‘legs’.

“Due to shortage of staff, there are no effective protection and patrolling happening,” said Tenzin Wangchuk the Park Manager of Royal Manas National Park (RMNP). To add to the woes, the park has only two vehicles which is risky as there is always a need for back-up emergency vehicles.

The RMNP Park Manager said at least 14 to 15 foresters are needed to patrol areas across the international boundaries. Currently, 55 active foresters from three range offices cover 19 sq kms individually to scout the RMNP which covers an area of 1,057 sq kms.

At the Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP), about 30 to 35 foresters with four range offices cover 4,316 sq kms of the park area. Technically each range office covers an area over 1,000 sq km.

In addition to patrolling duties, a forester has to carry out multiple tasks such as land survey, inspection of private land, allotment of sand and boulders, rural timber marking, field visit for forestry clearance and activities like tiger survey, wildlife survey and others.

“It’s a lot of area to cover and efficiency is a problem,” said a forester based in Thimphu.

In the north, since there is a market for commercial timber, a lot of evil is creeping into the system. Collusion at certain instances have been referred to by the media with regard to illegal timber felling and smuggling. This has also been attributed to the fact that the role for officials is not very clear.

The process for resources allocation which used to be a matter of hours now takes about a week. This is because the rangers have to go deep into the forest due to the dwindling resources.

The Thrumshingla National Park (TNP) has three range offices covering an area of 905.05 sq km with 20 active foresters and five non-technical staff. Each of the 20 foresters has to cover more than 45 sq kms.

Foresters under TNP have to also carry out developmental activities like eco-tourism. “It is an open resource and if there is no one to constantly patrol the area, it is dangerous,” said the Park Manager of TNP, Ratu Wangchuk.

The Royal Audit Authority after an audit in 2010 issued a memo to RMNP. The memo was against the staff leaving their jobs at the park. The memo reflected it was far more than those that joined the park.

Also at TNP, five staff left the office and only four came back. This is due to the cancel of transfers and other reasons, said Ratu Wangchuk.

However, the director general of the Department of Forest and Park Services, Karma Dukpa, said the current pinch in manpower is because rangers are getting trained at the College of Natural Resources.

“We recruit people based on the numbers provided by the Royal Civil Service Commission and we cannot go beyond that,” he said.  “We have to justify and rationalize the shortage and then have people in place,” he added.

A forester was however of the view that “The range officers are being trained but the shortage is of foresters.”

As of date, there are 1,300 forest officials including foresters, rangers and people at senior levels spread across 12 division and seven parks.

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