Wednesday, September 23, 2009

1,500 trees face the chop in Gir forest

1,500 trees face the chop in Gir forest
DNA By Jumana Shah

The state government which has been fighting tooth and nail for the exclusive custody of the Asiatic lions in the Gir forest, has ordered cutting of over 1,500 trees to make room for residential plots. The land which has to be cleared of the trees is a territory of a pride of 6-7 lions.

The land, which spans over seven-acres, is surrounded by the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary on three sides, in the Rupayatan forest area of Bhavnath taleti in Junagadh. About 450 reserve and 1,100 non-reserve trees are likely to be chopped down next week to make space for the construction of new houses.

These houses are to be built there for families who will be displaced during the clearing of the area around the Bhavnath temple. The land was lying unused for nearly 40 years and was acquired very recently from the Rupayatan Trust.

The proposal has aroused the ire of environment activists, botanists and residents of the region who believe the project would lead to 'deforestation' and do immense harm to the lions' habitat. Moreover, cutting down trees, some of which are over 40 years old, would lead to irreparable loss for the flora and fauna of the area.

Retired agriculture scientist Professor Rasik Bhatt of Junagadh University says people were alarmed when the project was announced last month. "Because of the dense forest, lions rest there during summer," he said. "There is another, smaller plot that we asked the Collector to consider for construction of the houses. That would have ensured that the lions will not be disturbed and deforestation would not take place."

Junagadh collector Ashwini Kumar conceded that some trees will be cut but refused to specify how many. He also conceded that the area is 'frequented' by lions. He, however, insisted that the plot is ideal for rehabilitating the displaced families and that wildlife conservation cannot be done at the cost of human life.

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