Phobjikha Conservation Area

Introduction

The habitat of cranes in Phobjikha is closely shared with human land-use and development activities. Hence, any human activity if not assessed for impact or undertaken appropriately will directly or indirectly impact the wetland, the forests and watersheds, and threaten survival of species including the Black necked cranes.  With the growing population, increasing accessibility, and absence of area specific regulations, the forest resources that is increasingly being exploited both by people within and outside the valley. Understandably, local people have also become increasingly aware and concerned of the issue (forest exploitation by outsiders) unfolding in their area. Lack of legal instrument and capacity to regulate the situation is seen as one of the major setback in tackling the problem. At present, the Territorial Division, which has been identified as the Forestry partner in Phobjikha, has only two Foresters, which is not adequate for monitoring and regulating forest management in the valley. In addition, there is a lack of proper management system (specific to conservation areas) that dictates the harvest of forest resources in a sustainable way. At the micro level, the problem is intensified by excessive use of timber for fuel wood and timber for heating, fencing and house construction. Due to extreme climate condition, most of the households use metal bukhari throughout the year for heating. Tackling the problem now is seen extremely important for sustaining the wood-source and maintaining the water-shed in the valley.  In addition, the extension of the area to include parts of Ada (White-bellied Heron habitats) make the project more significant.

The proposed project, in its entirety, is therefore designed to address the most urgent issues outlined above thereby sustaining the rich ecosystems and maintaining the integrity and harmony between the health of the biosphere and human well-being, eventually contributing to the conservation goals of the country.

Goals and Objectives

Goal
Mainta the integrity of ecosystem with specific interest in conservation of the Black-necked Crane and its habitat.
Objectives

  1. Develop an example of ‘conservation area management’ replicable in other conservation areas in Bhutan.
  2. Enhance community participation and support in forest management.
  3. Strengthen capacity of Territorial Forest Division, Wangdiphodrang in forest resource assessment and monitoring.
  4. Enhance knowledge and awareness of the local communities to facilitate conservation of natural environment in Phobjikha.
  5. Strengthen coordination and collaboration with the relevant stakeholders
  6. Improve the condition of Black-necked Crane habitat.

Activities

  • Assess and revise Management plan for Phobjikha landscape conservation area
  • Build up capacity for Forest Territory division in forest resource assessment, protection and monitoring
  • Establish two territorial Forest outposts
  • Establish community forestry management groups
  • Management of Black-necked Crane habitat & annual crane  monitoring
  • Study the habitat of the Black-necked Crane
  •  Develop Environment education material
  • Strengthen stakeholder participation

  • Phobjikha

Project Partners

  • Wangdue Dzongkhag Administration
  • Department of Forest and Park Services
  • Phobjikha Environment Management Committee.

Issues and Problems

1. Unregulated forest product exploitation led to depletion of forest resources:

Phobjikha is listed as one of the six conservation areas in Bhutan biodiversity action plan, however currently none of the legislation distinguishes between conservation areas and multiple use forest areas. It is also not clear that conservation areas should be under protected area system or not. At present these conservation areas are treated as multiple use areas therefore Phobjikha valley is still applies rules and regulations as other multiple use forest area in the country. Both the people living in the valley and the people living in other area of Wandue district are allowed to exploit forest products in the valley area. Along with poor management, high demand of forest products has led to rapid depletion of forest area around the valley.

2. Lack of capacity for forest management

There are at the moment only two foresters dedicated to management of forest in Phobjikha valley. They have the responsibilities to monitor and to allocate trees for 500 households in Phobjikha and others outside the valley. However, managing an area of 162 km 2 at micro level is over the capacity of two persons. Other weakness can be seen in terms of dearth of scientific data to facilitate proper management of forest. No study on forest increment has been carried out in order to quantify forest products that can be exploited per year in the area. Further more, forest products is exploited without applying any silviculture management measures/techniques.

3. Fuel wood consumption

Phobjikha is located in a high altitude so the temperature is rather low almost the whole year. The local people living in the area therefore use fuel wood for house heating in all the seasons. The survey conducted by RSPN in 2004 found that on average each household consumed about 40 m3 of fuel wood per year, equivalent to approximately 20 big trees.

4. Timber for house construction

House construction and development of furniture requires large quantity of timber in Bhutan and more so in Phobjikha where all the houses are built traditionally… Traditional method of timber use requires chopping around the log. This method wastes lot of wood and therefore number of trees. On an average it requires about 100 trees with diameter above 30 cm for constructing one house. After 10 years, about 11 trees are required for maintenance of the house

5.Timber for fencing

In order to prevent wild boars and free grazing cattle, all households build very strong fences for home garden as well as farming areas. These fences are built from timber and last only 2 to 3 years and require change after that. This practice can have considerable affect on the forest cover in the long run.

6. Unsustainable agriculture

Phobjikha valley is home to about 500 households and approximately 5,000 people. These families mostly depend on farming of potato, turnip and buck wheat. Because potato is grown during rainy season, the local people make potato row from uphill to down (cross contour line) to facilitate water drainage. This practice has led to serious soil erosion in the farming area and also loss of soil nutrients in the process. Because of which, some households are inclined to practice shifting cultivation, while others with no options apply huge quantity of chemical fertilizer to compensate the loss (nutrient). A survey by conducted by RSPN in 2003 indicated that these households use more than 160 tons of different kinds of chemical fertilizer per year for cultivating potato. Organic manure development is still far to the knowledge of the local people. Most of the farmers in the valley own cows but cow dung is hardly used for manure.

7. Soil erosion and water pollution

With the consistence depletion of forest in the mountains, unsustainable agriculture practice in the hillside is leading to serious soil erosion in some parts of the valley. The Black-necked Crane habitat in the valley is regularly maintained by grazing cattle, but soil siltation along the streams from the hillsides is likely to reduce the area available for crane roosting.