"We've completed all procedures, still the forests have not been handed over to us." That was the lament of Pusparaj Parajuli, secretary of the Hadaiya Paluwatar community forest in Udayapur. Now we are hearing similar comments from other community forestry group members around the country. This problem began about a year ago after the government made new rules for both the renewal of community forest papers, and for new approvals. The two new requirements are the preparation of a work plan, and an inventory of the forest resources. The fact is, this rule has made it impossible to get renewal papers for Nepal's oldest community forestry group in Kavrepalanchowk district. Now its chairperson, who has been involved with the forest group for the past 30 years, is being forced to watch the forests being destroyed once again. Nepal has over 11,000 community forest user groups who protect and manage about 865,000 hectares of forests near their homes and villages.
The forest inventory records the resources in the forests, the rate of regeneration, and other information needed to calculate the levels for sustainable harvesting. For instance, community groups are allowed to use 30 percent of the timber (50 percent for some species). People are not opposed to the surveys, but the government, which is already short of rangers, requires that they carry out the studies. The numbers of rangers who actually know how to prepare the inventories are still fewer. "After this rule came into effect, only two community forests were handed over [to the communities] in Kathmandu [district]," ranger Guru Prasad Dahal told us. Of 13 rangers in Kavre district, only five know how to prepare inventories. Based on this number-in a place where the community forestry movement began-we can safely assume that only 400-500 of the 1,200 government rangers are likely to be adept at preparing inventories.
This problem could be easily solved if the government were to allow all those technicians who have completed the intermediate level in forestry to do the surveys, says Hari Prasad Neupane, former chairman of the Federation of Community Forestry Groups. "In other ministries, the work of technicians who are not in government service is acceptable. Why is this not the case for forests?" More ironic is that the guidelines for preparing the inventory are only available in English, which perhaps gives some reason to cast aspersions on the motives of forestry officials..
Others question the rationale for insisting on the inventory. "The way it is being implemented [makes you believe] that forests are looked upon only as sources of timber," says Sagendra Tiwari of the World Conservation Union . There is more to the inventory. Parbati Shrestha, secretary of the Janapriya Communist Forest User Group in Udayapur told us that the ranger had asked for Rs 16,000 to do the survey. Eventually, the survey could not be prepared because the group had only Rs 3,000.