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Community conservation initiative at Bhairabkunda

 BHAIRABKUNDA (UDALGURI), Dec 18 - Against the bleak backdrop of large-scale deforestation along the Assam-Bhutan border, the community-regenerated Bhairabkunda reserved forest (RF) stands out as a beacon of hope.

The community conservation saga reflects the quiet commitment and perseverance of the residents of six villages on the Indo-Bhutan border at Bhairabkunda who joined hands with the Forest Department in regenerating a 5.5-sqkm stretch of barren forestland under joint forest management (JFM).

The JFM committees are Bhairabkunda JFMC (80 hectares), Swapangaon JFMC (50 hectares), Sonaigaon JFMC (70 hectares), Goraimari JFMC (50 hectares), No. 1 Mazargaon JFMC (70 hectares), and No. 2 Mazargaon JFMC (80 hectares).

The 22.24-sqkm Bhairabkunda reserved forest (RF) was left without a single tree by the early 1980s due to rampant illegal logging. The results of the conservation initiative, started in 2007-08, are evident today. The regenerated forest shelters herds of wild elephants, other mammals, reptiles and birds. With a sparkling stream of crystal-clear water crisscrossing the jungle, it is emerging as a hub of nature-lovers as well. Its rich vegetation comprises varieties of trees with khayar, shishu, simalu, bhomora, gomari and amlokhi being the dominant ones.

According to Madhurjya Sarma, DFO, Dhansiri Forest Division, the community conservation initiative is all the more laudable because several nearby areas have borne the brunt of an escalating man-elephant conflict. “The Bhairabkunda initiative can be an ideal model for replication in areas witnessing man-elephant conflict,” he says.

The afforestation drive involving local communities under the JFM started in phases during 2007-08, and an area of 550 hectares (5.5 sqkm) was covered in five years. Plans are afoot now to extend the forest area further. Fund crunch, however, has come in the way of the expansion drive, with neither the BTC authorities nor the State Government extending the required financial assistance.

“The regenerated forest has provided elephants with both shelter and food. As depleting elephant habitat is at the root of the man-elephant conflict, restoration of degraded forestland holds hope for long-term conservation, besides easing the conflict, Sarma says.

The local villagers attribute the success of the afforestation drive to community participation and support of the Forest Department.

“The villagers today know the importance of conservation, as the gains accruing from the regenerated forest are benefitting the communities. Initially, we were a bit apprehensive but as the benefits started to manifest, more and more people joined hands in regenerating the lost forest cover by contributing manual labour,” assert presidents of three of the JFMCs – Halona Basumatary, Atul Basumatary and Soneswari Daimari.

According to Sarma, with some support from the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), the area can be developed as an ideal eco-tourism hub. With rivers crisscrossing the verdant Assam-Bhutan-Arunachal border, and the Bhairabkunda RF providing some undulating trekking trails, there is a definite scope for promoting tourism.

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