Illegal tree felling continues unchecked across Hazara division despite the provincial government’s ban on chopping trees in both reserved and Guzara forests.
In June, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Forest and Environment Ibrar Hussain Tanoli had announced all sawmills in the province would cease operations and their licences had been cancelled.
The minister had stressed the decision had been taken to protect forests which have suffered due to tree felling. Tanoli had further said he would ensure the practice is checked during his tenure.
However, despite the minister’s claim, organised gangs of lumberjacks who enjoy the support of elected officials and people of influence in Hazara are busy striping bare the forestland of Hazara of its natural habitat.
People familiar with the matter say these gangs work hand-in-glove with police and forest officials and chop trees in relatively less accessible hilly areas, carve them into wooden logs and shift them to the bank of Tarbela lake on mules — all the while accompanied by armed guards. The logs are then transported downstream to Darband, Mansehra where they are sold to second parties.
After the purchase, the second party transports the consignment via ferries to Haripur where another group of armed men reportedly loads the logs into pick-ups and trucks to be sent to the markets in Punjab where a handsome profit is made from the wood.
Earlier in the week, upon receiving a tip-off, Ali Asghar, the chief conservator of forests, raided loading points in Mushk Kot and Teligran villages situated on the bank of Tarbela lake in Torghar district and seized wooden logs measuring 6,000 cubic feet.
According to Asghar, the accused timber smuggler had chopped trees from the forest range of Torghar and gathered it for transport to Darband and later Haripur. However, no arrest could be made as the culprits had managed to flee before the raid.
Apart from scrub forests, the hilly ranges of Hazara including Kohistan, Torghar, Mansehra, Thandiyani, Nathiagali, Satora and Khanpur areas are bestowed with common species of trees like deodar, pine, fir, spruce, acer, fircus and walnut.
A 2011 report by UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation had put Pakistan’s total forest cover at 2% of the country’s total area. The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2012-13, however, claims the forest area is 5.2%, a figure that is contested by environmentalists.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2013.