Conserving Forests Must be Our First Priority

Md. Arafat Rahman

In the third world countries like Bangladesh, forests and forest resources are being depleted at a massive rate. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a report on forests on July 9, 2018 that 13% of the total land area of ​​Bangladesh is forest. However, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change claim that 17% of the country’s total area is forest and tree-covered areas. According to the report, 3 lakh 32 thousand acres of forest land has been deforested in the last seven years. Chittagong region is the most advanced in terms of deforestation. In 2010, 60% of the country’s total tree resources were in this area. In the last seven years, it has decreased by about 10%.

The causes of deforestation are many. Causes of rapid deforestation include rapid population growth and poverty, cutting down trees in an uncontrolled way, new settlements, illegal logging, dependence on forest wood for fuel, grazing of cattle, purposeful burning of forests, Jum cultivation, commercial cultivation of some crops and fruits, conversion to agricultural land, high collection of economically important plants, such as medicinal plants, cattle feed, dyes, brick kilns and other small scale industries. Also, rainfall, landslides, erosion, floods, cyclones, tornadoes, increased salinity and some complex tree diseases are significant causes of deforestation and loss of forest resources. 

Apart from this, lack of proper maintenance and awareness, the inadequacy of research activities and development programs on natural habitats and reproduction of plants and animals, lack of necessary initiatives for conservation of environment are some of the reasons for depletion of forest and forest resources in Bangladesh. Sometimes there is a difference in the extent and nature of deforestation depending on the type of forest and the geographical location. For example, the forests in the central and northern parts of Bangladesh are largely arid and flat. Due to their geographical location and environmental reasons, they are easily accessible and habitable, so the chances of their destruction are relatively high.

Although the forests of Bangladesh are inadequate for the needs of a balanced economy, these forests play an important role in the economy and overall welfare of the country. That is why the conservation of forest resources is essential for the survival and sustainable development of the people. Government management of the hill forest was initiated through selected tree felling and normal reproduction. Subsequent deforestation and artificial reproduction or tree planting methods were introduced and selected tree cutting and development methods continued. During World War II, these forests came under tremendous pressure and increased demand to meet the growing demand for forest products. Later long and short term afforestation, as well as conservation, was introduced on a large scale.

The Sundarbans is the main component of the coastal region of the Bay of Bengal. The Forest Department has been in charge of managing and managing the Sundarbans since the declaration of the protected forest land. Specific sizes of cuttings of the main species of cuttable trees and a period of 40 years are followed in forest care. Later, the deadline was reduced to 20 years. The Sundarbans mangrove forest, along with the surrounding wetlands, is a potentially diverse ecosystem for long-term multipurpose use and integrated conservation practices. For conservation of natural forests, tree felling has been banned in all-natural forests since 1989.

Artificial afforestation is on the rise as an intensive land management activity in Bangladesh. At present, the main objectives of the afforestation project are to increase the overall tree resources of the country, prevent the depletion of forest resources, and strengthen the conservation of forest lands in the identified protected areas and sustainable management of forest resources through the participation of local people. The need for afforestation in coastal areas and the establishment of a vegetation enclosure as a ‘coastal green belt’ has long been recognized.

The implementation of extensive afforestation program under the Coastal Green Belt Project will make a significant contribution to the conservation and development of coastal ecosystems. The IUCN, an international alliance of nature conservation organizations, said in a 2017 report that forests are not only a source of biodiversity and natural resources but also a source of freshwater for trees. As a result, when forest covering area decreases, desertification, landslides and natural disasters increase.

In 1979, the country’s first national forest policy was formulated. A new national forest policy was adopted in 1994 by amending the national forest policy of 1979 because of the demands of the time and the existing overall condition of the forest sector. This new forest policy emphasizes the conservation and scientific management of forest lands to maintain the economic development and ecological balance of the country.

This forest policy proposes conservation of natural forests by increasing the forest cover of Bangladesh, conserving reserve forests and encouraging investment in afforestation and agroforestry. The National Conservation Strategy was adopted in 1986, recognizing the dependence of sustainable development on the protection and management of natural resources and the favorable ecology of these resources.

Forests and forest resources, i.e. soil, water and biodiversity are conserved practically at the ecological and species level. At the ecological level, forest protection strategies are as follows: management of protected areas, adoption of conservation methods for deforestation or extraction of forest resources from the forest through planned management. Wildlife sanctuaries, national parks are included in the protected areas. The Wildlife Conservation Act sets out the conditions and legal status of the declaration of protected areas. The government may declare wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and hunting grounds through a notification in the official gazette as per the terms.

Recent calculations suggest that carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation and forest degradation contribute about 12% of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions with a range from 6% to 17%. Deforestation causes carbon dioxide to linger in the atmosphere. As carbon dioxide accrues, it produces a layer in the atmosphere that traps radiation from the sun. The radiation converts to heat which causes global warming, which is better known as the greenhouse effect. Plants remove carbon in the form of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis but release some carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere during normal respiration. 

In deforested areas, the land heats up faster and reach a higher temperature, leading to localized upward motions that enhance the formation of clouds and ultimately produce more rainfall. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries has emerged as a new potential to complement ongoing climate policies. The idea consists in providing financial compensations for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Deforestation disrupts normal weather patterns creating hotter and drier weather thus increasing drought, desertification, crop failures, melting of the polar ice caps, coastal flooding and displacement of major vegetation regimes.

Deforestation on a human scale results in a decline in biodiversity, and on a natural global scale is known to cause the extinction of many species. The removal or destruction of areas of forest cover has resulted in a degraded environment with reduced biodiversity. Forests support biodiversity, providing habitat for wildlife; moreover, forests foster medicinal conservation. With forest biotopes being the irreplaceable source of new drugs, deforestation can destroy genetic variations irretrievably. 

It has been estimated that we are losing 137 plants, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation, which equates to 50,000 species a year. Predictions have been made that more than 40% of the animal and plant species in Southeast Asia could be wiped out in the 21st century. Rapidly growing economies also affect deforestation. Most pressure will come from the world’s developing countries, which have the fastest-growing populations and most rapid economic growth. Deforestation eliminates a great of species of plants and animals which also often increases disease. Loss of native species allows new species to come to dominance. Often the destruction of predatory species can increase the rodent population which can carry plague. Additionally, erosion can produce pools of stagnant water that are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitos.

The provisions of the Wildlife Conservation Act are a complete ban on the entry or residence of any person in the sanctuary, damage or destruction of plants, hunting of wild animals, the introduction of exotic animals, grazing of livestock, arson and water pollution. Hunting, killing or capturing animals within one mile of the boundaries of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks is prohibited.

However, the government may partially or completely relax these restrictions for scientific research, enhancement of natural beauty or development of protected areas and may allow construction of roads, restrooms, etc. in protected areas. The government may allow special hunting of wildlife in certain hunting grounds, specifying the maximum number of wildlife, the specific place and time of hunting.

The mangrove forests of the Sundarbans and the wildlife sanctuaries of these forests have been included in the list of World Wetlands and World Heritage Sites respectively. Development, management, planning and expansion of forests are the responsibility of the Ministry of Forests and Environment. Besides, it has Chittagong Forest Research Institute, Forest College, Kaptai Forest Development and Training Institute and one forest school each in Sylhet and Rajshahi. The National Botanical Garden at Mirpur in Dhaka is also under the Forest Department.

The department is also implementing several projects: forest resource development projects, coastal green belt projects and Sundarbans biodiversity conservation projects. The Forest Department has launched social forestry activities involving the public to rehabilitate deforested and marginal lands. These activities include rural afforestation, nursery development and training in forests and agricultural farms.

The first forest policy formulated in Bangladesh after independence focused on the supply of fuel wood and timber production. The latest forest policy has three sections: (1) The prerequisites for forest development include: (a) equitable distribution of profits among the people, especially forest-dependent people for livelihood; (b) People’s participation in afforestation programs and taking people’s views and suggestions in planning and decision making. (2) People-centred goals of forest policy: (a) creation of rural employment opportunities and expansion of forest-based rural development sectors and (b) prevention of illegal occupation of forest land and other forest-related crimes through public participation. (3) The policy declarations include: (a) extensive afforestation of marginal government lands in partnership with local people and NGOs; (b) afforestation in deforested/occupied protected forests in agroforestry model with the participation of people and NGOs; (c) creation of a new department called ‘Strengthening of Forest and Social Forestry Department’; (d) to strengthen education, training and research facilities and (e) to amend laws and regulations relating to the forest sector and, if necessary, to enact new laws and regulations.

Author is a Columnist and Asst. Officer, Career & Professional Development Services Department, Southeast University


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