An estimated 3,396 sq km of the 300-plus reserve forests in Assam has encroached with environment organisations urging the state government to act tough on illegal settlers and ensure that there is no fresh encroachment on forest land. More than four lakh people have settled illegally inside 20 wildlife sanctuaries and 271 reserved forests in the state, while in Sonitpur district alone 892 sq km of forested area is under encroachment, Kaziranga Wildlife Society's Secretary Mubina Akhtar said.
Organised encroachment threatens to wipe away the Manas Reserve Forest part to the west of the newly created first addition of Manas National Park, she said. Destruction of this important forest patch between the Aie and Bhur rivers has reached such an alarming proportion that it is feared that the whole reserve forest may vanish by next year unless the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) administration curbs this menace immediately, she added.
About 53 villages sprang up inside the Manas National Park over the past 23 years. Besides, 782 ha of the 78.64 sq km Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary is under encroachment, while the 220 sq km Sonai-Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary has lost over 85 sq km of its area to encroachers, President of Early Birds Moloy Barua said.
Seven Reserve Forests of Kamrup -- Garbhanga, Hengrabari, South Sarania, Gotanagar, Jalukbari, Kalapahar and Fatasil -- are under large-scale encroachment, posing a grave threat to the urban biodiversity, he said. Forest areas under Chirang, Kolmou and the Kuklung Range have declined drastically and along with encroachment, illegal logging and poaching continue in the National Park, he added.
"We demand that the state government if at all it is serious of protecting what is left of our forests, must act tough on illegal settlers and ensure that there is no fresh encroachment on forest land," Working president of Aranya Suraksha Samity Nitul Sibnath said. Besides, reserve forests are now pooled with exotic tree plantations such as rubber or teak which have very limited value for endangered biodiversity, he said.
Converting chunks of natural forests into monoculture industrial plantations would devastate local ecosystems and this is indeed scary as the natural ecosystems are complex and sensitive, where each species has a role and is symbiotically dependent on other species, Sibnath said. The rapid decline in forest cover is not only going to seriously impact biodiversity but also stands to impact climatic conditions with irreversible catastrophic consequences and has also led to a crisis of wildlife management, the activists said.
The ongoing week-long Vana Mahotsav's underlying objective seems to have lost its relevance in Assam as without proper conservation of forests, simply growing trees cannot be a substitute for altering shared habitats, they added.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)