This winter season, Uttarakhand Forest Officials set out to protect the state wildlife by bringing in regulations. Trek like Har-Ki-Dun is closed for trekkers in Govind National Park for the Winter Season. The Forest Officials stated doing so to help the animals a peaceful transition time for migration and hibernation.
Just ahead of winter, the Forest Department has withdrawn permission to camp inside Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary. Trekkers will no longer be allowed to camp at Rohini Bughyal and Bhrujgali meadows on the famous Deoriatal to Chandrashila Trek. Although taking the 14 km forest trail from Deoriatal to Chopta is permitted.
The rationale behind withdrawing camping permissions
The prime motive of this move is linked with the conservation of the endangered white-bellied musk deer. This solitary animal resides in the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and is poached indiscriminately for its musk pod. A musk pod is found in the abdomen of the male musk Deer. The musk pod emits a pleasant aroma that is highly sort after for its cosmetic properties. The population has dwindled from 600 – 1000 to mere 100 in last three decades alone.
The State Forest department says checking poaching is difficult with limited funds, lack of Forest guards and difficult terrains. The shortage of patrolling staff makes it near impossible to guard the vast forest land. About one-third of the posts lie vacant in Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary in the department. Most Guards are nearing the age of retirement and replacements are hard to find.
Trek Tourism has risen exponentially at Sari and Chopta in the last few years. Organized trekking groups have started to run fixed itinerary treks inside Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary. The Forest Officials find it impossible to keep a control over camping activities inside the Sanctuary. The problem of littering at the forested trail and the campsite has come into the light lately. The quiet meadows of Rohini Bughyal and Bhrujgali (once only used by local villagers and shepherds) now see a presence of multiple trekking agencies. Suddenly the quiet sanctuary has been taken over by trek tourists.
The money collected from Camping Permission and Environment fee do not always reach the Forest Department collections. Under the table deal for the entire trekking season is done among some Trek Agencies and Officials. It looks like everyone is benefiting but the Sanctuary and its creatures.
Is withdrawing camping permission inside the Forest going to help?
The answer to this question depends on to help who? If the conservation of Musk Deer from poachers is the cause then banning camping does little. It only helps the understaffed Forest Department to channelise their resources in looking at other matters than the impact of trek tourism.
Having said that, banning camping inside the forest has other benefits. It will help in avoiding the ecological impact from unregulated trek tourism. This can help in minimizing human encroachment in the protected land reserved for the animals and birds. And that is not bad at all.
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