Mountain trekking in Nepal is a high point (pun intended!) for outdoor enthusiasts. As one of the world's most species-rich countries, Nepal is known for its stunning scenery and dizzying array of wildlife. But some remote mountain areas have become degraded by hunting, illegal timber harvesting, poaching and wild harvesting of native plants. Local communities, mountain wildlife and ecotourists alike would benefit from reforesting these areas where "off-the-beaten-path" trekking opportunities abound. That is why The Mountain Institute has joined forces with the European Outdoor Conservation Association's (EOCA) 2 Million Trees Project. In partnership with local communities, we'll be planting 80,000 native and locally grown trees in Gorkha, Dhading and Sankhuwasabha districts.
Planting native trees on degraded slopes leads to countless benefits. Steep slopes become more stable and less prone to landslides. Soils are improved over time, which helps with local farming. Trees provide essential habitat for a wide variety of wildlife--from native birds and migrating flocks to insects, reptiles, small mammals and even bats. Trees provide shade, fruits and nuts while absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. They are an essential element as mountain communities try to adapt to climate change. And of course, reforesting degraded areas makes mountain ecosystems healthier and more resilient--a plus for both locals and ecotourists.
As always, our Institute's approach is to put local people at the heart of protecting mountain environments.
The first step toward our goal of 80,000 trees was to set up community meetings in mountainous districts where we have worked for over a decade. In partnership with community members, we developed a plan for growing, planting and caring for the thousands of trees to be planted. The overall plan includes building nurseries and training local people in a more sustainable approach to natural resources. In turn, locals will be equipped with new skills and knowledge to improve their livelihoods while also protecting the environment.
In three communities in Gorkha, Dhading and Sankhuwasabha districts we met with men and women representing local forest management groups, plus government officials from District Forest Offices and our local NGO partners. All three communities selected barren, degraded, treeless landscapes for reforesting. These areas are near high-potential, "off-the-beaten-path" trails used for mountain trekking. The plan is to have local communities and government officials deeply involved in planning this project--from designing and building nurseries to preparing selected sites and the actual tree planting. Once saplings are in the ground, site monitoring and management for the long term will also be a local responsibility.
The remote sites selected are in Kashigaun village (Gorkha), Jharlang village (Dhading) and Ikhuwa, Karmarang and Gola villages (Sankhuwasabha.) All of these sites are from a day and a half to three days walk from the nearest road head. All the areas chosen for replanting are within community managed forest areas. By collaborating with the committees that are managing these forests, we help ensure that the trees will be cared for in the long run.
Now that sites to be reforested have been selected, the next step was for villagers to decide which species to grow and where to build their nurseries. After much discussion, community members decided to grow locally available tree species that best suit the local climate and environment plus species with multiple uses and good economic value. Seeds and saplings for most tree species were carefully collected from community forest areas. For other species not available locally, the Institute helped villagers buy seeds certified by the National Agricultural Research Council in Kathmandu.
Nursery construction is currently underway in Dhading, Gorkha and Sankhuwasabha districts and members of community forest user groups are responsible for building. There are many factors to consider including which species of trees are best for the area, where to get the best soil for nursery beds, fencing materials, etc. Community members will collectively manage all these nurseries in the years to come. Local staff from our partners--Health, Education, Empowerment and Development Nepal (Dhading and Gorkha) and Upper Arun Society (Sankhuwasabha) will provide technical assistance based on special nursery management trainings organized by the District Forest Office. Once these nurseries are completed, seeds will be sown and cared for to produce seedlings and saplings for replanting. Over time, and with additional resources, communities plan to keep improving the nurseries, bringing direct water access and building more durable fences to protect saplings from hungry livestock!
We are so inspired by all of the communities' enthusiasm and hard work! They have taken ownership and responsibility for overall management of this project at a time when they are still struggling to restore their homes and livelihoods destroyed by the 2015 earthquakes.
The photos above show the "before" part of this project. Saplings will be grown in nurseries for about a year, then planted in selected sites as of May and June of 2018. We expect that, weather permitting, we'll start to see a real difference in a year's time. Our goal is to strengthen these remote communities' potential to benefit from ecotourism by creating a more beautiful, interesting, rich-in-wildlife outdoor experience. Improved livelihoods for mountain villagers plus a more diverse, healthier environment is sure to be a win for both locals and visitors.
You can be a part of EOCA's 2 Million Trees Project! Just 10 Euros will provide 25 trees to be planted in our project areas. Here's where to donate on EOCA's website.
Please pitch in--we'll keep you posted on our progress!
Updates and photos are due in soon from the Sankhuwasabha sites to be reforested. These villages are quite remote – a 3 days’ walk from the nearest road head – up high in the mountain district. We'll post progress reports on all our reforested sites on this blog site - please check back!
Our sincere thanks to our partners: EOCA, Health Education Empowerment and Development Nepal and Upper ARUN Society.