From afforestation to deforestation-1
.. by Prof. Rahmat Karim Baig
The piece of land and mountains called Chitral has got two types of geographical features i.e. the forest area of southern Chitral and the rugged and barren mountainsides of upper Chitral. Both have their attractions and constraints or merits and demerits. The forest area of lower Chitral has played a great role in the economy of the inhabitants of the valleys plus the pockets of the rulers of Chitral in the past and the timber mafia of our time. The locals have had enjoyed the proximity of the dead trees, naturally broken trees and their branches and have thus made living facilities better for winters. I call them the fortunate ones as this forest provides them wide areas of pastures for their flocks as well as for the wild life. The wild life found in this part of Chitral is also very much valuable and liked at international level. The local people have enjoyed the proximity of the firewood but because of abundance ( according to their estimates) they have overused the fire wood and have now reduced the area to smaller tracts of valleys and open pastures. This forest area extended up to Golen valley as clear from the record of the British officers but above Golen the wider part of Chitral had no forest but willow, birch, poplar and other medium size bushes.
The barren mountains of upper Chitral have got a large number of side and sub valleys where there are birch, willow, juniper and other small size trees and bushes. The groves of birch etc. grew naturally, not planted by the people and the seeds falling from the branches germinated and added to the old trees. The same process continues as a law of nature but in the past these far flung valleys were meant for summer grazing of flocks and cattle who only ate the grass and other veggies but did not eat the saplings of the birch trees but now the old customary law is being violated because the GRAM system and head of the GRAM has disappeared and instead Gujoor tribes have reached the distant sub valleys who stay there for longer time. They graze their own goats as well as the goats of the commune and the inhabitants keep loose vigilance on the grazing method of the said herder. He overgrazes the meadows and his goats eat up the tiny birch saplings soon after their appearance on the surface of the soil. The stay of Gujoors has to be shortened and made limited to specific pastures only.
The presence of Gujoors, not a few but a whole horde of them unknown in the past, with their own flocks is a devastating phase for the fragile ecology of the alpine pastures; in upper Chitral there is no Forest department to oversee the natural bio-diversity- forest side of the ecology. The spread of Gujoors should be restricted by the administration and time frame should be fixed to live in that altitude due to the fragile ecology of the region. The Wakhi men , in the past, came to Boroghil in summers for a few months, paid tax to the governor of Mastuj and then left the pastures in early autumn so the Gujoors have to be brought under a comprehensive rule for their movements and then leave the distant valleys earlier than they do today. The government has to intervene and our customary rules have to be reintroduced. The Wild Life staff is not trained for that aspect of forest. So now we have got to define the word FOREST:
If Diyar, pine, oak etc. are the only trees to be called forest then we have no justification to put conservation of birch, willow etc. on the shoulders of the Forest department but if all trees are part of the natural forest, grown naturally, then the Forest department has to extend its duties up to those hinterlands and side valleys that reach the moraines of the larger glaciers of Hindu Kush. The department will have to appoint staff there to see if any violation is being made beside the traditional use of the dead trees. Instead of planting one tree you can look after thousands of birch saplings in the valleys, far away from human settlements as they are naturally fit for that altitude. Then the district of upper Chitral will need a full fledged Forest office with a good number of trained staff to look after the Juniper, birch, willow, poplar etc. This topic is a part of Environmental issue and has to be discussed by all stake holders. .. Prof. Rahmat Karim Baig, Chitral 17 June 2022