Special KEWA Report
Jammu & Kashmir possesses vast forests stretching from the lower valleys high up into mountain passes right to the edge of massive glaciers. Forests in Jammu & Kashmir vary according to both altitude and climatic conditions. They range from the tropical deciduous forests in the foothills of Muzafarabad and Jammu, to temperate forests in the middle altitudes of the Kashmir Valley. Higher up, in Gilgit, Baltistan, Ladakh, and the higher areas of the Kashmir Valley coniferous, sub-alpine, and alpine forests spring up. These eventually give way to alpine grasslands and high altitude meadows just below the towering mountains and glaciers. They are followed by scrublands which lead up to the permanent snowline.
Jammu & Kashmir's forests include a wide variety of species including maple (the famous "chinar" tree of the Kashmir valley), evergreens, rose chestnut, alder, pine, laurel, sal, oak, magnolia, cedar, birch, hazel, spruce, juniper, rhododendron. These forests provide a perfect habitat for the wildlife of Jammu & Kashmir and are a vital component of Jammu & Kashmir's Eco-system.
This upcoming K.E.W.A. Report, hopefully the first in a series of reports on deforestation, shows that in the last 50 years, deforestation has accelerated as a result of poor government control (and in some cases corruption), lack of local awareness, and military conflict. Sustained deforestation has begun to have a severe effect on the entire environment of Jammu & Kashmir.
In both Pakistan and India-administered Jammu & Kashmir, the cutting down of old growth alpine forests has occurred at an alarming rate. Illegal timber smuggling has emerged as one of the main illicit livelihoods and largest of sectors in Kashmir's "conflict economy". In India-administered Jammu & Kashmir, whole forests have been cut down illegally. In Pakistan- administered Jammu & Kashmir, there are cases of army officers treating their posts as commercial logging opportunities. In the past, entire forests were cleared and sold. Cases such as these underscore the need to develop effective measures safeguarding Jammu & Kashmir's forests and other natural resources.
Logging companies carve roads into the area, strip the land of much of the old growth forest and move on, leaving bare hillsides exposed to the heavy rainfall common to the area. The rain waters rush down the hills, covered only by loose soil, and erosion causes this soil and silt to flow into the rivers and lakes. Deforestation and the resulting loss of habitat is driving a number of endangered species to extinction. In order to save the environment of Jammu & Kashmir, rigid conservation and preservation of the forests are vital. The K.E.W.A. Report concludes with suggestions on how to carry this out.
In addition, the K.E.W.A. Report takes as one of its case studies the recently developed threat to the old-growth forests of the majestic Fairytale Meadows located below the towering Nanga Parbat (8,125 meters). It is hoped that viable solutions might be reached before Fairytale Meadows meets a similar fate as other alpine forests in Jammu & Kashmir. Fairytale Meadow is located in a valley on the North face of Nanga Parbat. Streams trickle down through the meadows amidst wild flowers; the forests of fir, dwarf pine, and silver birch standing peacefully alongside the Nanga Parbat glacier. A multitude of rare species of plants and animals flourish in the meadow and forest. For decades, this hidden paradise was only accessible to the sturdiest of trekkers.
But in the last few years, since 1994, a jeep track and a three mile hike has brought an increasing number of tourists. The jeep track was financed by the "Shangri La" Pakistani hotel chain which was started by a Pakistani military officer who clear-cut forests in other areas of Jammu & Kashmir. This jeep track has now made logging possible in the Fairytale Meadow.
Although cutting of trees has been minimal so far, unless measures are adopted to protect Fairytale Meadow it is likely that cutting will accelerate. The K.E.W.A. Report recommends that Fairytale Meadows and similar sites in Jammu & Kashmir be declared as environmental conservation sites making them illegal to log. But the K.E.W.A. Report concludes with a recognition of the importance of developing an indigenous environmental movement to safeguard the forests and other natural treasures of Jammu & Kashmir. - K.E.W.A
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