Zonation for Forest Management

22 Nov, 2020

A Micro Planning Approach For Ecosystem Services in Himachal Pradesh

By: Joachim Schmerbeck, Team Leader and Ritesh Sharma, Technical Expert, GIZ

While driving on Delhi’s National Highway 48, one has four lanes to drive on. But you can still get stuck in traffic when you move towards Mahipalpur. Careful observation reveals that traffic results from a conflict among users; auto-rickshaws stopping and picking customers at T-points, cars making U-turns mid-way and buses stopping parallel to each other. As a result, despite four lanes, only one is available for hundreds of cars, resulting in chaos. This example is a classic case of how a resource is used versus the actual plan of optimal use.

The same analogy can be applied to forests. They provide fuel, fodder, food, timber and drinking water to people who live nearby. Those living further away still benefit from the forests’ regulation of water flow and also visit the forest for recreation. Usually there is no clear planning on optimizing the benefits from forests. Even on minimal output, people don’t complain, like in the case of single lane for cars.

But what if all users and stakeholders agree to particular use/s from the forest land allocated? What if there is an alternative approach? We can dedicate sections of land as zones, based on their respective ecosystem service uses, also called ‘Ecosystem Service Zones’. Once agreed upon, an ecosystem service zone-based approach can optimize ecosystem services outflow.

The Himachal Pradesh Forest Ecosystem Services (HP-FES) project made 9 micro plans based on this straight-forward approach. The zonation was discussed with the villagers in several meetings. After delineating the forest area, a list of Forest Ecosystem Services (FES) and areas receiving them were mapped. The villagers were then asked to prioritize them. Water was the top-most priority in almost all pilot sites, almost like a provisioning service. A joint exercise with the community and a geo-hydrologist identified recharge zones for springs and wells, followed by an agreement on demarcation of these FES zones.

Figure 1.1: Discussion with the village communities on zonation ©GIZ/Harish Kumar

Once the FES-zones were distinguished and mapped, it was important to understand the condition of the forest in each zone. This included understanding degradation factors like fires, soil erosion, overgrazing, weed infestation etc. A brief, but strong vegetative assessment was done to understand the density of the forest, species in the main stand, the density and composition of regeneration as well as human impacts. Mapping of conflict with neighbouring villages or trans-graziers was settled with negotiation and dialogue.

Figure 1.2: Zone-wise management map of prioritised FES at Cheola demonstration site ©GIZ/Aashima Negi

The final product resulted in an agreed plan of interventions by the villagers and Forest Department. The plan had different zones, clearly indicating the first, second and third FES that needs to be managed per zone. It is not easy to reach such a plan; there are trade-offs when shifting to new use and there is additional opportunity cost for shifting to new land for different services.

Although water is of high priority, water recharge zones have a very high opportunity cost and it is difficult to give up on other services. It means moving to other areas for fuel and fodder which can result in conflict with other users. A positive aspect of such zones is the option of dedicating zones for open grazing.

An inevitable challenge is keeping the villagers motivated and continuous support of the Forest Department towards these plans after the project. But we are confident that these plans it will provide a solid foundation for focused management enabling smooth flow of Forest Ecosystem Services. Just like the calm flow of traffic once the lanes are free.

©GIZ/Aashima Negi


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