Rhododendron not safe even in conservation area

Villagers felling trees for lack of alternative energy source, awareness

Terhathum, June 16:

People have been rampantly felling rhododendron trees in Teenjure of Milke Jaljale area even though it was declared as Rhododendron Conservation Area a decade ago.

The Milke Jaljale area lies in between 1,700 and 5,500 metres above mean sea level and is spread across 558 sq km in 10 VDCs of Terhathum district, seven VDCs of Sankhuwasabha and six VDCs of Taplejung district. Of the 32 species of rhododendrons found across the country, 28 are found in the Milke Jaljale area alone.

Chairman of National Rhododendron Conservation Committee (NRCC) Laxman Tiwari said the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology had declared the area as Rhododendron Conservation Area a decade ago.

The NRCC with the support of the IUCN and Conservation Association of Nepal had started conserving rhododendrons in the area eight years ago.

The district forest offices of Terhathum, Sankhu-wasabha and Taplejung had handed over the responsibility of conserving rhododendrons in the forests to community forest users’ groups, he said.

There are two community forest users’ groups in Taplejung, 13 in Sankhuwasabha and 20 in Terhathum district in the Milke Jaljale area.

However, in the recent days felling of rhododendron trees in the forests of Tutedeurali, Ghubirse, Panchpokhari, Phedi, Chauki, Mangalbare and Gupha-pokhari of Milke Jaljale area is on the rise, he said.

Locals said a large number of rhododendron trees were cut down during the construction of Basantapur-Guphapokhari road.

People living in the areas near the forests and roads use rhododendron timber as firewood, Man Bahadur Khulal of Madi Mulkharka said, adding: “We have no option but to use rhododendron as firewood because we have no alternative source of energy.”

People prefer using rhododendron timber as firewood because it can be used when it is still wet instantly after felling, Sukmaya Moktan of Phedi said.

The locals here cut rhododendron trees twice a year by charging Rs 55 from each member but the people here cut the trees throughout the year, Moktan said.

People here resort to felling rhododendron trees for firewood because of lack of any other alternative source of energy and also because of lack of consciousness, chairman of Terhathum chapter of the Federation of Community Forest Users of Nepal (FECOFUN) Kaji Subba said.

“We have no special programme for the conservation of rhododendron. But other organisations are working for it,” assistant officer at Terhathum forest office Chandra Bahadur Ranamagar said. Rabindra Wasti, project officer at Sankhuwasabha DDC, said they had no special programme for conservation.