Militancy takes its toll on forests

The NWFP forest department failed in achieving its targets fixed for preservation of forests and new plantation in the province last year due to the increasing militancy, an official said on Friday. "Militancy has destroyed forests in the Frontier. The forest department had planned to plant 12 million saplings in 2007, but it could plant only 9.196 million in various districts of the province,' a source in the forest department said here on Friday. In most parts of the troubled districts, the source said, the department's nurseries badly suffered, either plants were taken away by the people or destroyed by the cattle while a lot of plants died due to lack of water and care. "The officials failed to take effective steps for protection of the forests and valuable trees in various districts,' the source said, adding that precious trees were left at the mercy of the timber mafia. Officials of the forest department were avoiding visiting the forest-covered areas in their respective jurisdictions and there was, so far, no data available about the destruction of the forests, particularly cutting of trees. In the past, the source said, the forest department used to mobilise students and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) during tree plantation campaigns but it had almost become impossible as all government and private educational institutions remained closed due to the ongoing law and order situation. "Unlike the past, even the NGOs did not take any interest to save or grow plant as they are feeling themselves quite insecure in the troubled region,' the source said. The troubled districts, specially Swat, Tank and Hangu, the situation was more serious, and officials were reportedly unable to transport saplings from nurseries to cultivations sites. Suleman Khan, an environmentalist, told Dawn that the situation in the entire region was not so bad but the officials concerned "were using the pretext just to save their faces'. He disagreed with the officials on the point that transportation of saplings was impossible to some areas, saying that they should concentrate on the areas which were comparatively peaceful. NWFP Chief Conservator Mohammad Nazir Khan, when contacted, admitted the negative impacts of militancy on the forests. "Despite the deteriorating law and order situation, staff members of my department were trying to perform their duties.' Giving details about the spring tree plantation during the current year, he said at least 27 million saplings of different species, raised by the NWFP Forest Department in various filed nurseries, would be planted in various districts including the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). He said some 2.809 million saplings would be planted in southern districts, 7.872 million in Fata, 2.738 million in Abbottabad, 8.090 million in watershed areas and 5.491 million in Malakand. He said about 0.401 million saplings would be planted by the security forces, 0.221 million by various educational institutions, 1.939 million by farmers/general public, 1.327 million by non-governmental organisations and 23.112 million by the forest department. He said they had decided to plant 0.290 million saplings on 760 acres in Peshawar, 0.447 million in Mardan, 0.414 million in Kohat, 0.040 million in Banu, 0.205 in D.I. Khan. Over 0.732 million saplings would planted in Khyber Agency, 0.916 million in the Mohmand Agency, 0.476 million in the Bajaur Agency, 1.135 million in Orakzai Agency, 1.434 million in Kurram Agency, 0.993 million in South Waziristan and 1.434 million in North Waziristan agencies.

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