What happened in Uttarakhand is truly tragic, and while tourism brings money and development to the region, it can also do unintentional damage to fragile ecosystems. Here are some of the key issues that face the conservation of natural resources in the state:
- Forest fires: Every summer, hundreds of hectares of forests are affected by such forest fires. Wild fires lead to loss of human lives and wildlife species and also cause damage to the ecosystem. Almost every forest fire is caused by human beings. Some areas are set afire by local communities to reduce grass on the forest floor. Many fires are caused by travellers throwing cigarette butts on roads passing through forests.
- Non-biodegradable waste: Today, even remote hill villages have a ‘Noodle Point’ selling packaged food, soft drinks and water in plastic bottles. A lot of this waste is carelessly strewn across natural trails and campsites. If burnt, they release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. Counter this with the mantra of ‘reduce, reuse & recycle’. If visitors carried back empty bottles and packaging waste, it would go a long way towards keeping our wilderness pristine.
- Water conservation: Given that some of India’s most important rivers originate here, it is ironic that water conservation remains a burning issue in Uttarakhand. A large number of natural springs that dotted the hillside have been damaged due to the cutting of slopes for road building or other unplanned activities. These have adversely affected the underground water table at many places.
- Forest protection: While Uttarakhand has largely maintained its forest cover and even shown a modest increase in that cover, the protection of forests remains a constant challenge. Encroachments, illegal tree felling and unregulated collection of forest products are also responsible for damage to forests. Many wildlife corridors have been choked due to unplanned development and this also contributes to increased human-wildlife conflict.
- Illegal wildlife trade: Illegal products made of fur, bones, glands, tusks, feathers etc of endangered species, are offered to unsuspecting buyers as souvenirs and local produce. Our awareness could really make a difference and help protect the wildlife resources of the region.
Remember, anything we can do to save the environment is a positive step.
This article was originally written by Samir Sinha, Indian Forest Service, Uttarakhand Forest Department for our Short Escapes from Delhi travel guide.