India Dehradun: For the Uttarakhand forest department, 2016 was a year which saw several challenges and a few achievements. The biggest challenge faced by the department (for which it got a lot of flak due to inept handling) was the sparking of a mammoth fire in the summer which could be doused only after losing more than 4500 hectares forest land. The department was only able to salvage the situation to some extent with the creation of 20 lakh mini trenches across the forests to minimise the impact of such fires in future. Also, even though a slew of measures were announced like launching tiger and leopard safaris, resolving of increased human-animal conflicts and effective implementation of monkey sterilization schemes, not many projects got off the ground or made much headway.
State forest minister Dinesh Agarwal claimed that paucity of funds was the primary reason for many projects not taking off. We get negligible assistance from the Centre. But despite working with severe budgetary constraints, we have managed the upgrading of Dehradun zoo, creating two new butterfly parks and forming a new eco-tourism board.
The forest fires that ravaged large parts of Uttarakhand last year were a big black mark on the departments report card. The entire state machinery and forest department was caught unaware about the unprecedented magnitude of the fires which were so intense that they continued to simmer for several months in the process destroying large swathes of the states flora and fauna. Almost 10,000 personnel including those from the defence forces were engaged in efforts to control the fire which experts said later could have been checked if firelines had been created in advance by the forest department.
Even though the department was not pro-active in this matter, it took reactive steps after the disaster by checking the spread of highly combustible chir pine needles, another precipitating factor for the fires. Rajender Mahajan, principal chief conservator of forests, Uttarakhand, said that 20 lakh trenches were dug by the department in the chir-dominated forests of the state during the monsoon season. These trenches will be replenished with rain water, thus creating moisture near the chir pine trees which will help in preventing occurrence of fires to some extent in the future.
Another highly-touted scheme of the forest department was the project of starting a tiger safari in Corbett Tiger Reserve. This proposal, although approved by National Tiger Conservation Authority hit a roadblock after the Central Zoo Authority said that it did not satisfy certain norms related to wildlife. There was also a plan to allow visitors to see leopards — trapped from different regions after they came into conflict with humans — who could be put on display at the Chidiyapur rescue centre at Haridwar. However, this, too, did not work out.