How log poaching was stopped in North Bengal forests?
There was a time when they chopped trees illegally in the forests of North Bengal. And why did they do so? Simply because they had no other employment. Well, we are talking about the hundreds of youths of Buxa-Jayanti belt, where illegal timber logging was a livelihood for locals even a decade back. But thanks to the efforts of the present Bengal government, local youths are being trained through awareness programmes to protect the very forests that they once exploited and are getting alternative livelihoods through forest protection.
The Jayanti and Buxa forests primarily are home to numerous Sal and Shagun trees, timber of which are very expensive as per market value. Local youth Devashish Gope mentioned, “Each tree sells for almost 4lakhs, and as they are expensive trees the previous Left Front government had planted a large number of these trees, which are not part of the local flora. These trees were brought from Burma and other places to be used for timber and for their own commercial purposes.” Though cutting of such trees is strictly prohibited in the forest region, but off and on they were cut by local youths and the local authority was hand-in-glove with this timber poaching.
Incidentally, the Jayanti forest range is not very well-structured like Jaldapara range and hence do not attract as many tourists as Jaldapara does. Even this forest does not have regular jungle safaris. Moreover, due to recent lawsuits filed in different courts by environment conservationists, even the tourist lodge of Jayanti is closed till the court case gets over. This has led to further dip in tourist flow. The locals needed an alternate earning source. The present state government stepped in and local youths are being trained now as forest guards to help conserve the trees.
As guide Ranjit Sharma points out: “Awareness camps are helping a lot, as benefits of the Jayanti forest and how they can help the locals in the long run is highlighted. Also, some are being trained as forest tour operators and jeep drivers to encourage tourism in the region. Thus,locals are now made to understand, if they destroy the forest, their lives and livelihood would be at stake.” An innovative way indeed to turn local from tree poachers to tree protectors