The government has banned the extraction of certain forest products from the Sundarbans, the expansive mangrove forests that has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site, in order to protect its ecosystems from over-exploitation.
The ban to prohibit the harvesting of Golpata, Goran and other forest resources came into effect from the start of the winter season and will remain in force until further notice, Yunus Ali, the Forest Department’s chief conservator of forests, said. But fish, crab and honey may still be harvested on a limited scale because they are not covered by the ban.
The government hopes to protect the forest ecosystem by restoring depleted species, he said.
The largest single tract of natural mangrove forest in Bangladesh is the Sundarbans, with an area of
6,017 square kilometres, according to the forest department. It is 4.07% of the country’s land area and accounts for 40% of the country’s forest land.
The forest inventory of 1998 reported that there were 12.26 million cubic metres of timber available in the Sundarbans including Sundari, Gewa, Keora, Baen, Dhundul, Passur and other species of trees that have a diameter greater than 15cm.
The Sundari is the most important species of tree in the Sundarbans forest and is distributed over 73% of the reserve, according to forest department statistics.
A study titled River Salinity and Climate Change: Evidence from Coastal Bangladesh published earlier this year by the World Bank said the volume of Sundari tress had declined in the last few decades due to rising levels of salinity.
It said the Sundari tree cover had declined from 23,000 hectares in 1989 to just 16,400 hectares in 2010.
Non-wood forest products like Golpata, honey, wax, fish and crab are high-value products of the Sundarbans.
Calling the government initiative good, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), said the illegal extraction of forest resources by the Forest Department itself had to be stopped first, otherwise these efforts would not work.
The illegal extraction of resources, especially timber felling and the poaching of wildlife, has long been carried out illegally by Forest Department officials, she said. “This must be stopped.”
At the same time, the government must introduce alternative options for forest-dependent people who rely on the Sundarbans for their livelihood, she added.
Poor people living around the Sundarbans are forced to enter the mangrove forest to collect wood, catch and trap fishes and crab, and collect honey, legally and illegally, to earn their livelihood.
The Royal Bengal Tiger, Gangetic Dolphin, Indian Fishing cat, Indian Otter, Spotted Deer and a variety of monkey species are among the prominent fauna of the Sundarbans.
Ecology and biodiversity researcher Pavel Partha said the government ban violates the traditional rights of forest-dependent people established in the Bangladesh Wildlife Protection and Safety Act, 2012.
The government should permit those traditionally dependent on the forest to use the forest for their livelihoods and ban non-forest dwellers, instead of imposing a blanket ban on everyone, he said.
Furthermore, banning all resource extraction can harm mangrove ecosystems because some species, like Golpata, require regular extraction for the regeneration of the forest, he added.
Yunus Ali said the forest department is working to provide alternatives for forest-dependent people to alleviate their hardship when the ban comes into effect.
The Sundarbans are home to 334 species of trees, shrubs and epiphytes and 269 species of animals.