Punjab Forest Act: Contentious amendments leave WWF-P rattled
LAHORE: The World Wildlife Fund—Pakistan (WWF-P) on Wednesday expressed grave concern regarding the recently amended Punjab Forest Act of 1927.
“It is expected that amendments in the Act by the provincial government will pave the way for the destruction of protected forest lands in the Punjab, which will have an adverse effect on the biodiversity of the province,” the statement reads. The Punjab Forests (Amendment) Ordinance 2016 was promulgated after being approved by the governor on January 26, 2016. Sections 27 and 34-A of the Act have been repealed while Subsection 3 has been inserted. According to the subsection, the provincial government, after obtaining the approval of the provincial cabinet, can convert reserved forestland to any other land use as it deems fit.
“Pakistan, along with over 190 countries, signed a groundbreaking deal at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in December, 2015 in Paris. The text clearly acknowledges the significance of forests, and recognises the importance of incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation and sustainable management of forests. The Punjab government’s decision comes as a shock to us following the landmark COP21 agreement which Pakistan pledged its commitment to on the international stage,” WWF-P DG Hammad Naqi Khan said.
“Since 1947, the Punjab alone has converted 40,352 hectares of forest land to other uses. The 2010 amendment to the Act ended the identification of reserved and protected forests. This was a milestone when it came to forest conservation in the province,” WWF-P species conservation director Uzma Khan said. She said the revocation would have a detrimental effect on species dependant on forests. “Many such species are locally categorised as critically endangered. Habitat protection and availability is crucial to ensuring their survival,” she said. Khan said constricting habitats would exacerbate conflict between wildlife and communities. The common leopard, grey goral, barking deer, Punjab urial and a large variety of birds were amongst the animals she identified.
The statement also raised some concerns regarding the province’s declining forest cover. “According to the Land Cover Atlas of Pakistan that was published by the Pakistan Forest Institute in 2012, the Punjab’s forest cover has declined from 0.608 million hectares to 0.550 million hectares since 1992. This means that Punjab is losing its forest cover at an alarming rate of 2,900 hectares per annum. The province has 4.1 per cent of its area reserved as protected forest land which falls short of international standards,” the statement reads.