BHAIRABKUNDA, Dec 24 – In a development that holds hope for long-term conservation amid the gloom of large-scale deforestation in the State, communities of six hamlets on the Indo-Bhutan border at Bhairabkunda joined hands with the Forest Department in successfully regenerating a stretch of barren forest land.
The results of this quiet community initiative done under joint forest management (JFM) are evident, with the regenerated forest expanse of 5 sq km already emerging as a shelter for herds of wild elephants. This is significant given the raging man-elephant conflict in several nearby areas, and is being viewed as a long-term successful model against elephant depredation.
“Wild elephants are getting both shelter and food at Bhairabkunda. This shows how restoration of degraded forest land can help mitigate the man-elephant conflict. It can be a model for replication elsewhere, especially in areas witnessing the conflict,” Nava Bardoloi, Range Officer, says.
The 22.24-sq km Bhairabkunda reserve forest (RF) was left without a single tree by the early 1980s due to rampant illegal logging. “We started the afforestation drive involving local communities in phases since 2007-08, and within four years we were able to cover 500 hectares (5 sq km). We intend to cover the entire forest and have submitted a proposal to the Government,” Bardoloi, who was instrumental behind the initative, says.
Attributing the success of the venture to sincere community involvement and support from the Forest Department, Rupchand Daimary and Sunnilal Basumatary –both members of the joint forest management committee – assert that the villagers were realizing the importance of conservation and the benefits accruing from the regenerated forest.
“Initially we were a bit apprehensive but after seeing the benefits more and more people joined hands in regenerating the lost forest cover by contributing manual labour,” Daimary says, adding that the community was ready to replant another 5 sq km land immediately for which a proposal had already been submitted.
The six villages involved in the initiative are Sonaigaon, Goroimari, Sapangaon, No 1 Majorgaon, No 2 Majorgaon and Bhairabpur.
The regenerated forest land now has rich vegetation comprising a number of varieties with khayar, shishu, simul, bhomora, gomari and amlokhi being the dominant ones. Elephants apart, different animals such as deer, monkeys, leopard, bears, etc., besides a variety of lesser fauna frequent the forest. The avifauna, too, is quite varied. A small river with several canals – a few of those manmade — runs through the forest, providing replenishment for the green cover.
Bardoloi believes that with some support from the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), the area can be developed as an ideal eco-tourism hub. With rivers criss-crossing the verdant Assam-Bhutan-Arunachal border, and the Bhairabkunda RF providing some undulating trekking trails, there is a definite scope for promoting tourism.
Regrettably, the positive vibes emanating from the successful saga of Bhairabkunda have so far failed to enthuse either the BTC authorities or the State Government.
Fifteen families of encroachers inside the forest are another irritant. “Initially encroachment was much more but we were able to evict and rehabilitate them. Some families, however, continue to illegally occupy the forests,” Bardoloi says.