Logging; G-B stripped of more than 50% forest cover

PM reverses logging, transportation bans after lobbying from G-B Council, timber traders


Shahzad Anwar January 25, 2015
Forest cover in G-B has fallen to 295,000 from 640,000 hectares in the last 20 years. PHOTOS: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: Although national and international efforts are under way to curb illegal logging, local markets are flooded with timber from Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), resulting in massive deforestation in the absence of proper oversight.

Owing to the continuous cutting of banned species including pine, kail and deodar, forest cover in G-B has eroded more than 50 per cent over the last 20 years, said a top forest official.

Interestingly, soon after coming to power, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had banned felling and transportation of timber from G-B. But the ban has since been lifted after the intervention of the G-B Council and timber traders.

“Forest area in G-B has fallen to 295,000 from 640,000 hectares in the last 20 years due to callous cutting of trees and illegal transportation down-country,” Climate Change Division Forest Wing Deputy Inspector General Dr Shahzad Jehangir told The Express Tribune.

Though the forest in G-B’s Diamer District are technically owned by local communities under a deal they signed with the government in the 1950s, logging is managed by the G-B Council, which is chaired by the prime minster.

In 1993, the interim government of Moin Quraishi imposed a ban on logging and timber transport, which was lifted in January 2000 by Pervez Musharaf’s regime for one year.

“Permits for harvesting were subject to the approval of the G-B Forest Department and monitoring of the Forests inspector general,” Jehangir said, adding that the G-B Forest Department failed to fulfill its responsibility to stop illegal felling after the ban was lifted.

“Once the banned was lifted, around 8 million cubic foot (cft) of timber was cut in one year, while the local forest department seemed to have its eyes closed,” he said.

After receiving lots of complaints about the ruthless logging, the Forests inspector general approached the federal cabinet in 2008 and former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz imposed conditional restrictions.  Under those rules, timber traders could only shift 2.5million cft of the eight million felled during a six month grace period, but the local forest department failed to take possession of the excess wood.

From 2009 to 2013, illegal cutting and transportation of timber continued, and on March 15, 2013, former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, just a day before the end of his term, lifted the ban on movement of illegally felled timber from Diamer.

“The incumbent government initially imposed a ban on cutting and transportation of timber, but it reversed its decision after a month due to strong lobbying by loggers, which has further aggravated deforestation in Diamer,” said Muhammad Khan Qureshi, a resident of Chilas, and an active forests protection campaigner in G-B.

“Now, the timber mafia has started fresh cutting, while the local forest department has turned a deaf ear to the issue, despite several complaints,” Qureshi said, adding that the local communities have decided to revive Zaito committees — community-based committees to protect forests — with a meeting to be held in Chilas on January 27.

He said local forest guards were helpless against the influential timber smugglers. “Also, timber contractors in connivance with some forest guards illegally fell trees and pay locals an unfairly low rate,” Qureshi said.

He said that the timber smugglers pay only Rs40 per cft to locals for logs that sell for Rs3,000 to Rs4,000 per cft in the open market.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2015.

COMMENTS (8)

JD | 6 years ago | Reply

When will we get rid of these corrupt political mafia that has ruined Pakistan and its Citizens?

We need IK and PTI in power.

PTI zindabad

Baltee | 6 years ago | Reply

Its the responsibility of federal government to protect the forests of Gilgit Baltistan. Also Govt should ban transporting timber from Gilgit baltistan to other provinces of Pakistan. www.skardu.pk

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