Monday, March 21, 2016

Traditional Relationship with the Environment, Bhutan

The environment has always been greatly respected by the people and many still prefer pristine mountains and valleys to towns and cities. Many who live in the remote parts of the country have depended for generations, upon the environment for sustenance. People still retrieve lumber, fuelwood and other non-wood forest products such as mushrooms and herbs from forests, gather rocks from the open and draw water from rivers. This traditional mindset of the people was further helped when the government enacted a law ensuring that the country shall maintain at least 60% of its forest cover at all times. Today, approximately 72% of the total land area of Bhutan is under forest cover and approximately 50% of the land area falls under protected areas comprising of 10 national parks and sanctuaries.

Bhutan is a country deeply instilled with traditional values which stems from having Buddhism as the chief religion. The environment has always had a great significance in terms of history and religion as Buddhism emphasizes the respect for all forms of life including the environment. Tales of Guru Rinpoche flying to Taksang on a tigers back and of him planting Tsenden (Cupressus Torulosa) seeds as he traversed the lands with his walking stick are known to all Bhutanese. Even the religion of Bon, which was the main religion in Bhutan prior to Buddhism, was mostly based on respect for nature. The people of Bhutan still maintain traditional practices in certain areas of the country. In the concept of Ridum, certain areas of the forest remains closed during certain times of the year. Certain areas of the forest also exist where no felling of trees is allowed as those are believed to be the residences of local deities and these areas are known as Neyda Zhida locally.

Certain traditional issues regarding the environment do exist currently as well. Dependence on firewood as a fuel source has been historically prevalent. Although a great portion of the country now has hydroelectric power, there are still some areas where the only energy source is fuelwood. Across Bhutan, traditional farmers and grazers have continued to face human-wildlife conflicts such as crop and livestock depredation. These conflicts are complicated by problems of overgrazing and wildlife protection. Tseri Agriculture, a type of practice where land is cleared and farmed intensely until it becomes unproductive and ultimately left fallow, still exists in some areas although it was outlawed in 1969.

Bhutan is currently developing at a rapid rate and could lose some of its pristine environment to make way for development over the years to come. However the people of Bhutan are determined to preserve this resource for all time and along with some hard work from the people and the visionary leadership of His Majesty the King, we believe that we can indeed succeed. 

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