Unkindest cuts

Large-scale smuggling of timber from Nepal to Tibet threatens the pristine forests in the northern Himalaya

By Prakash Khanal
Published: Wednesday 15 July 1998

timber products from precious high altitude Nepalese forests continue to meet the timber demand of homes and monasteries in Tibet. Finished timber products smuggled by the Nepalese traffickers into Tibet is depleting the precious forests in the northern Himalaya. It has also become a source of revenue for the Chinese government.

"The Chinese government collects five Yuan as tax from each finished wooden items such as stairs, windows, doors, ploughs, beams from the timber traffickers at the borders," says Padam Singh Ghaley, a senior highland trekking guide. Without these forests the fragile semi-desert mountains will be washed away. The rampant felling of the tall mature forests, in the fragile ecosystem of northern Himalayan belt along the Tibet-Nepal border above 3,000 metres has brewed enough environmental problems in the Himalaya. Environmentalists predict that frequent landslides, soil erosion, loss of highland vegetation, flora and fauna will become the order of the day.

Researchers say it is difficult to describe the types of vegetation that exists in different climatic zones of Nepal. Although Nepal lies in the subtropical zone of the globe, 65 per cent of the area of this country is covered with high mountains. According to Ghaley, influential Tibetan business traders are involved in clearing forests in the upper northern belt. The Tibetans even encourage the people to uproot small bushes which they use as firewood.

"In the Tibetan side, there are no forests in the near vicinity," said Ghaley. It is very far and very costly for them to import timber products from other parts of mainland China. That is why the Tibetans have opted to allure the Nepalese villagers to meet their demands.

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