Environmentalists fume over forest dept’s move to axe hundreds of trees in
The forest department has axed hundreds of trees in central Kashmir’s Budgam in the past 10 days, causing outrage among environmentalists and forest lovers.
The action comes shortly after a four-year-old girl was mauled to death by a leopard.
Locals accused the forest department of ‘wanton felling’ of hundreds of cuprous and robinia trees in the name of thinning the eight hectare (160 Kanal) forest nursery at Ompura in Budgam, where the mauled body of the girl was found on June 4, just 1km from her home.
“On the pretext of thinning, the forest department is destroying this nursery of trees. They have been randomly cutting down the trees with utter disregard of the environment and the role this nursery played in the ecosystem of this area,” said a local, Irshad Ahmad.
“How can cutting down the forests stop man-animal conflict? The officials have to strike a balance. They have to protect the vegetation as well as the human lives,” he said.
Irshad said that officials were also burning the fallen foliage and branches inside the nursery which can trigger forest fires. “They have no idea that it can cause a huge disaster,” he said.
Following the death of girl and to assuage the emotions of the enraged locals, the district administration then decided to remove the “fallen material and other cultural operations” from the forest area to “avoid any further loss of life”.
On June 15, Jammu and Kashmir administration announced that the leopard responsible for killing was captured following a massive operation.
Another resident of Ompura said that the fencing of the lawn of the house from which the girl was taken was open at certain places through which the animal was believed to have entered. “Before the incident, we had been repeatedly asking the wildlife department about the sightings of the wild animals, but they did not seem to care,” he said, not wishing to be named.
He said that the administration needs to erect a strong and effective iron-mesh fence around this forest area wherever it has been damaged to prevent animals from entering the colony.
Officials said that the eight-hectare land was turned into a forest nursery in the early 90s to stop the soil erosion in Budgam which has many natural slopes.
Raja Muzaffar Bhat, a prominent social and environmental activist of Budgam, was aghast over the felling of trees.
“It is not right. Instead of afforestation they are cutting down the trees. Most of the nurseries of the forest department are not being properly taken care of,” he said.
Wasim Balki, range officer, Budgam forest department, said they have trimmed down and pruned trees on two hectares out of the eight hectares so far.
He, however, denied that they were “wantonly felling” the trees.
“We are clearing the trees which have fallen on the ground, or those uprooted or broken. We don’t touch healthy green trees. Only their branches are being cut to thin out the area,” he said. “There is no random feeling of trees. Every tree is enumerated and a list of trees which have to be cut and which not, has been prepared,” he said.
He said the nursery was having dense vegetation. “We are also pruning big branches to increase the visibility. It may take another 15 days,” he said.
He did acknowledge that they were burning the dried foliage to clear the area. “Where else will we take it,” he said.