Conservationists warn against commercialisation of protected areasCommercial activities in protected areas will damage biodiversity and environmental services, say conservation activists
Such commercial interventions will leave detrimental and irreversible damage, said the conservationists at an interaction in the Capital on Thursday.
The government has rolled out a plan with a view to introducing tourism activities inside all the protected areas of the country, including the Shivapuri Park— the closest one from the Capital which also serves as a water resource for the water-stressed Kathmandu Valley.
Prabhu Budhathoki, a former member of the National Planning Commission, said seeing conservation areas only from the economic point of view is faulty.
“Our conservation has been exemplary around the world although it has been only five decades of formal conservation. It was possible because everyone contributed,” said Budhathoki, who was also the country representative of IUCN in Nepal. “Now, the conservation is being turned into a commercial enterprise. Conservation is not a profit-making enterprise, it is a well-being enterprise for many generations. It cannot be seen from the profit point of view.”|
The government has drafted a new working procedure for all the protected areas for promoting and regulating tourism activities inside those areas. The new plan will mean that interested entrepreneurs can enter the conservation areas where they will provide jungle safari, ultra-running, cycling, rock climbing, hiking, boating, canopy walk and paragliding, among other adventure sports and activities to attract tourists.
There have already been proposals of opening cable cars inside the Shivapuri Park, which was first established as Shivapuri Watershed Project with the sole purpose of providing and protecting water resources for the people living downstream in the Kathmandu Valley.
Krishna Bahadur Shrestha, a forest expert and former government official who worked with a watershed project before it was upgraded to Shivapuri Watershed and Wildlife Reserve, said any human interference in the main source of water for the Valley will be a matter of life and death.
“The Shivapuri has been providing water to the Valley residents at the cheapest cost, especially at a time when the Valley is waiting for Melamchi project for years,” said Shrestha. “Imagine the consequences if we had stopped conserving the park hoping water from Melamchi River would ultimately come. Human interference and mobility through tourism activities will mean massive deforestation. We might earn some millions of rupees, but lose something bigger and valuable in exchange.”
The Shivapuri area, located on the northern side of Kathmandu Valley, had once turned into dry and bare land and locals had started facing a shortage of water around five decades ago. Following the establishment of the watershed project, the area bounced back to its prior condition.
According to Tirtha Bahadur Shrestha, a botanist and conservationist, the Shivapuri area serves as the perfect example of forest regeneration and a rich hub of biodiversity.
The national park has 1,250 species of vascular plants and 129 species of mushrooms. It also has 102 species of moths and butterflies and is home to 311 species of birds including 117 migratory birds. Spiny Babbler, the only endemic bird of Nepal, is also found inside the Shivapuri Park.
“The park is birds’ paradise. Every time former US President Jimmy Carter visited Nepal, he would go there to listen to them chirping,” said Shrestha. “The number of birds inside the Shivapuri outnumbers the total number of birds in some of the European countries.”
According to Shrestha, one of the dragonfly species which was reported in 1987 research is linked to the age of dinosaurs and nearly 200-300 completely new plant species that were reported in an 1802 research, and were only found around Swayambhu area before later going extinct, are still surviving inside the Shivapuri area.
“Not only species that are extinct in the country but those rare in other parts of the world are still safe in Shivapuri,” said Shrestha, proposing that the government should declare the protected area a “silent park” where no visitors are allowed to make noise.
“The silent park can be unique, as it will be just next to a noisy city like Kathmandu. If these areas are protected, the first goal should be conservation—not profit,” said Shrestha. “And, if commercialisation is the goal, then the government should convert the department that is managing parks into the tourism department. The government can either take a bold decision and hand over all these parks to the tourism department or continue to build on its conservation achievements.”
Conservationists have been expressing concerns that external interference might create an imbalance in environmental services the park offers in the form of water, fresh air, among others. A study has estimated that all these environmental services values nearly 11 million dollars per year.
“Environmental services’ value exceeds billions in the form of carbon sequestration and other services. We might make a few millions in revenue, but the damage will lead to disasters,” said Kamal Jung Kunwar, former chief warden of the Shivapuri Park and an under secretary with the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation.
“The effects will be similar to Chure degradation in the Tarai resulting in water scarcity during the dry season and floods during the monsoon,” said Kunwar. “Damage to the park means no water for the Valley and soil erosion, leading to landslides and floods downstream. What will happen if all the rivers get flooded at once?”