The controversy over the government's decision to hand over protected areas to the private sector has finally been clarified: the parks will be managed by NGOs and local communities.
After the announcement was made during the budget speech in July 2003, the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MFSC) came under sharp criticism from conservationists for putting decades of bio-diversity efforts at risk. The government has now ruled out handing the parks to commercial interests, and is giving them to non-profit conservation groups.
It says only NGOs with proven record in biodiversity conservation will get the chance to manage the parks without government supervision. Protected areas consist of national parks, wildlife reserves, buffer zones and conservation areas.
The King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation (KMTNC) has already received approval from the government to manage Rara National Park, Shey Phoksumdo National Park and Shivapuri Watershed & Wildlife Reserve-all of which are located in ecologically sensitive regions. Rara is Nepal's smallest national park and Shey Phoksundo is the largest, and both are habitats of rare wildlife species like the musk deer, blue sheep, snow trout and snow leopard. Rara has the country's largest lake, and Shey Phoksundo the highest.
While KMTNC has experience in running successful conservation programs in the country, the fact that it was handed Rara and Shey Phoksundo has raised eyebrows here. KMNTC worked with WWF Nepal and Department of National Parks & Wildlife Conservation to turn the Annapurna Conservation Area into a world class eco-tourism model.
"But same success may not be achieved without government monitoring and supervision," says Krishna Humagain from Nepal Foresters Association. The government is in a bind: as the army is redeployed from guarding national parks to security duties, who will look after the parks? Conservationists say local communities should be more directly involved in conservation, and cite the example of Kanchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA) to Local Users Council as an example.
The council will work with WWF Nepal and the Department of National Parks & Wildlife Conservation (DPNWC) to manage the park in training local expertise for conservation so the park can be handed over. "If this community effort goes well, Kanchenjunga will be a model for proactive and decentralised management of protected areas not found anywhere else in the world," says Chandra Gurung, WWF's country representative.
Nepal's protected areas were established during the early 70s to cover 21,000 sq km, about 14 percent of the country's total land area. There are eight national parks, four wildlife reserves, two conservation areas and one hunting reserve in the country.