Friday, June 29, 2012

Wild Fruits and Wildlife in Sikkim


Wild fruits represent the floral biological diversity of a region. All fauna and flora depend on the fruit diversity for an ideal forest. Host specificity of specific fauna is responsible for the animal matrix of the region and is accordingly, classified and identified. In the ecological chain, the proximity of moths or butterflies towards wild flowers and fruits, undoubtedly, is responsible for the development of birds,   valued forest assets and others. This reveals that all elements of a forest have an integrated bio-dynamism. Thus, any action or policy development for the forest fringes, forest land and forest resources have major impact on the people and diversity as well.
Likewise, one of the forest produce of Sikkim is Machilus edulis, Lapche phal or pomse.  Machilus edulis of family Lauraceac is a temperate plant species and known to be found in the habitat of the Himalayan black bear (Ursus thibetanus), Sikkim Stag (Cervus elaphus), Snow leopard (Uncia uncia), Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens), Indian Bison (Bos gaurus), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Leopard cat (Felis bengalensis), Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), Satyr Tragopan Pheasant (Tragopan satyra), Kaleej Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos), Takin (Budorcas taxicolor) and so on. For this reason, the dynamism of animal and vegetation matrixes are noteworthy, for the strategic development of a region.
In this connection, the yardstick of ideal good habitat is an important tool for the analysis of forest resources.  Based on the ideal forest value or index, the forest quality can be improved with tangible and intangible outcomes. Keeping this in view, the unscrupulous estimation of resources needs to be avoided; at the end, such action not only destroys the vegetation matrix but also exerts pressure on the movement of animals to the boundary region in search of ecological equilibrium.
Recent methods in use, to obtain the ideal vegetation matrix in Sikkim, are namely, artificial regeneration and natural regeneration. Moreover, the natural regeneration is a low-cost viable method for the conservation and augmentation, as opposed to artificial regeneration. Besides vegetation matrix, the ideal animal matrix is also required for forest quality standardization.
As Sikkim, maintains one of the best ecology in the country at present, it requires principles and guidelines of forest travelers with valued information to reduce anthropogenic forest pressure. Now onwards, the strategy of replanting young or mature trees (or valued species) may be a better solution for the augmentation and conservation of endangered, rare and threatened species on the ‘Red data list’. Re-planting strategy of young or mature trees or suitable valued species on the wastelands or degraded land or degraded forest land is a suitable approach to save plant, environment and tree age.
Otherwise, a new sapling will take at least 30-40 years to mature, depending on species to species. To get benefit of 10-30 years of tree age on an average, the replanting tree strategy would be a successful measure for endangered, rare and threatened species in the future.  In the occurrence of global crisis in green economy, Sikkim, now requires to develop a fundamental plan for infrastructural or technological development according to region and availability of manpower. Such action may be crafted to turn Sikkim’s wastelands or degraded forests green in a year or more.
The statistical data for the degraded land of Sikkim, according to 2008 remote sensing report, estimates ‘mixed degraded forest’ at forest land and non-forest land at 194.56 Km2 and 235.06 Km2, respectively.  Likewise, degraded conifer forest is estimated at 156.89 Km2 and 16.30 Km2, for forest and non-forest land; as well as, the land slide area estimated at 5.37 Km2  and 5.16 Km2  in forest land and non-forest land , respectively. Therefore, the re-planting tree strategy may be the sustainable approach for augmentation and conservation of Sikkim’s forest resources.
Lack of awareness on the vegetation matrix of specific region, is another major threat to Sikkim’s green economy. In recent times, vegetation shifting in the hills is a new issue in the biodiversity of Himalayas. Reinstating earlier regional vegetation and establishing awareness among the stakeholders may control vegetation shifting in the Himalayas. In addition, the adaptation of small or large plants at the tree line area, of 2 to 20 years old, is a better step for the augmentation of threatened, rare and endangered species of the world.  The correct age estimation and identification are, nevertheless, significant points to be considered for the best outcome. Such pace and strategy, are, undoubtedly, worth mentioning and shall, moreover, contribute in reducing the anthropogenic pressure on forest.
Regional or environmental management planning is another imperative intervention for the comprehensive development of the region for better flora and fauna management. Senior citizens, regional experts, researchers, concerned institutions, etc. ought to be involved to prepare regional or environmental management plan for high-quality results. The forest committees, such as JFMC (for sub-tropical, tropical and sub-temperate forests), Watershed Committee (for watershed area), Eco-development Committee (for temperate, sub -alpine and alpine forests) should be properly educated with the methods and principles of forest management in idea exchange programs.
Furthermore, the work components of the Eco development areas are properly made for the sustainable development of a region including livelihood options, with standardized skills for addressing the issues of overlapping of eco-development areas in forest land. Until and unless, a suitable alternative livelihood for villagers of the forest fringes is not found, knowingly or unknowingly, the stakeholders will trespass or enter forest land and fetch resources for their use and to resolve their temporary problems.  Addressing the issue of sustainable livelihood activities at the forest fringes, will certainly reduce the anthropogenic forest pressure, provided that the plan of action is made keeping in mind the regional customs and cultural elements.
In fact, the concept of sustainability is designed on social, economy and environment principles and  Machilus edulis (Lapche phal) fruit is an example of such Sikkim forest produce. In a survey on this plant, it was found that, the plant bears fruit in the period between October to January, meaning that it almost holds 3 – 4 months in a year.  In total, the Gangtok market requires 9000- 12000 kgs of this forest produce in a season. In contrast, a single household from the villages at the forest fringes requires 15-20 kgs per season.  
As a whole, the maximum requirement per season in the state may be upto 15000 kgs, a production of  150-200 trees. Consequently, this fruit is a good prototype of wild fruit market and requires an enhancement for market development.  A successful model of such livelihood activities of  Machilus edulis  (Lapche phal) at forest fringes was reported by the Forest Committee members and Ucha Pahari Jaributi Sanstha of Ilam, Nepal. Such adaptation on livelihood activities with Machilus edulis (Lapche phal) may be a good solution for reduction of forest anthropogenic pressure.
Invasive species in the forests of Sikkim is one more threat and is responsible for the quality of soil and forests. Identification of such invasive species, therefore, to a certain extent, may help to develop the quality of forests and control the movement of wildlife towards human habitat. In this context, roles and  responsibilities given to the Watershed Committee of each Watershed area of Sikkim or to any forest statutory body, can help the augmentation and conservation of wild animals and forestry as  a whole.
Likewise, sustainable Joint Forest Management activities, through Joint Forest Management Committee and Eco-development Committee, would provide a control tool for the wildlife menace in the wildlife affected areas, undertaking several high valued activities.  In retrospect, the history of Taungyadar custom in Sikkim forestry can be referred to as an example of eco-development and restoration.  The guidelines of National Afforestation Programme for the JFMC and EDC has given clear directives to carry out   defined activities to meet the objectives outlined.
Policy and plan reflect the system and state of any country and such interventions were included by Sikkim as well. At the outset, the then Chogyal of Sikkim had put forward a pioneering step to augment and conserve the habitat of the region in his Council in 1905 and established the set of first  general rules for reserved forests of ‘Sikkim State’. The first policy for the forest management of Sikkim was - “ Reserved forests will be demarcated in the Teesta, Rungeet and a few other valleys, where sal grows well turning out the present cultivators and compensating those who are not cultivating against orders”.  Besides this rule, other rules, upto 1909,  related to forest management, augmentation and conservation were fuel  and fodder (Council minute (C.M)  dated 1.4.1908),  Grazing ( C.M dated 1.4.08),  cultivation and temporary measure of grazing ( C.M  dated 11.11.1908),  Rules for Sikkim Forests( Council Minute of 30th April, 1909) and  so on.  
In 1910, in accordance to the circular no 685 dated 18th June, 1910 for ‘Sikkim Forests Rules Regulating Grazing’, published by the then Political Officer of Sikkim, C.A Bell, defined at section 15 that, “Forest Officer means the Maharaj-Kumar of Sikkim, landlord of the Elaka, Forest Manager, Forester, forest Guards and Chaprasis whether kept by the State or the landlords to look after the Forest”.  In the light of such rules, the then ‘Sikkim State’ had provided complementary flexibility for the management of Sikkim’s forests. The honor provided to the Sikkim Forests, by Maharaja Kumar, Sidkeong Tulku, as the first declared Forest Officer, was a golden era of Sikkim forestry. In short, the earlier pre-merger policies related to the sale of forest produce had rules to regulate the sale of forest produce, rate of forest produce, timber agreement, bamboo pulp agreement and so on.  This reveals that the forest policies have direct impact on the rural economy at large and, thus, need to be prepared in compliance to the rural economy.
Anthropogenic pressure on forest vis-a-vis wildlife pressure on human habitat, is a known fact. Thus, at the end, irrespective of  legal tools on the items such as bamboo, Arisaema (gurbo) and  Machilus edulis,  the  development of ‘eco-development areas’ of forest fringes is only a significant and a valid point for integrated progress in Sikkim and adjoining Himalayan countries. The protocols for quality forest and its assessment, protected area networking, trans-border issues, forest boundary clearance, clear demarcation, etc, may be adopted for sustainable ecological equilibrium. Otherwise, the wild life may once again venture out of the jungles in search of new equilibrium and management.
[The writer is Principal Scientist, High Altitude Research Centre, Forest, Environment and Wildlife Management Department, Government of Sikkim]

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