Depleting rhododendron forests raise alarmMinistry of Forests and Environment launches five-year action plan to conserve rhododendron species.
The Division Forest Office in Tehrathum has voiced concerns about various rhododendron species going extinct in the TMJ area (a collective name for Teenjure, Milke and Jaljale), spread over three districts—Tehrathum, Sankhuwasabha and Taplejung. The TMJ area is also known as the “rhododendron capital” of the country.
In July 1998, the TMJ region was declared a rhododendron conservation area. Thirty-one species of rhododendron trees are found in the region. The species called Rhododendron arboreum is Nepal’s national flower.
Dense rhododendron forests that once covered the area are shrinking every year, said Sunil Kumar Singh, forest officer at the Tehrathum forest office. “People living around forest areas rely on the forest for firewood and also smuggle timber. They have also encroached upon the forestland.”
Plucking flowers from the trees and haphazard road construction to facilitate settlements near the forest areas have also led to the depletion of rhododendron forests.
Bidur Lingthep, mayor of Madi Municipality in Sankhuwasabha, said that the rhododendron forests have been lost to encroaching settlements over the years. “Some of the rhododendron species used to bloom from mid-February but these species are hard to be found these days,” said Lingthep.
“Various rhododendron species that bore flowers of different colours are on the verge of extinction in the highlands of Tehrathum, Sankhuwasabha and Taplejung districts,” said Singh.
Local residents say that for the lack of a better alternative, they use rhododendron trees for firewood. Udaya Kumar Tamang, the operator of Laligurans Hotel in Chauki bazaar, said, “If the local government provides subsidised electricity and cooking gas, we won’t have to use firewood for cooking.”
Tulasi Sangraula, Province 1 chairman of the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal, said authorities have not paid due attention to the conservation of rhododendron forests. “A number of roads are opened through the forest area which stands to threaten the growth of rhododendrons in the TMJ area.”
Yadav Khapung, chairman of Menchhyam Rural Municipality in Tehrathum, is also concerned about the effects of haphazard infrastructure development on the lush rhododendron forests.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Forests and Environment has implemented a five-year action plan to conserve rhododendron species in the hills and mountain regions of 43 districts.
The government has been working as per the Rhododendron Conservation Action Plan for a year. One of the major goals of the plan is to conserve various rhododendron species and promote ecotourism for the management and conservation of natural resources.
Maheshwor Dhakal, joint-secretary at the Ministry of Forests and Environment, said that the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation had prepared the action plan for the conservation of rhododendron species. “There are challenges aplenty in conserving various species of rhododendron especially due to the haphazard development works and forest encroachment by the locals,” said Dhakal.
According to the action plan, authorities have to identify rhododendron habitats, manage pastures and plant rhododendron saplings in the forests within five years. Dhakal said the plan also encourages villagers to use improved cooking stoves and promotes alternative energy sources.
Data with the Forest Department shows various species of rhododendron thrive on 691,596 hectares of forestland across the country.