Once-denuded slopes in the foothills of the Himalayas are showing signs of green again. In Nepal, local community groups are managing the forests, deriving income from the timber, and also protecting watersheds and a variety of rare birds, mammals, and flowering plants.
In 1957, the government nationalized the forests, but it had neither the will nor the means to protect them. Over the next 35 years, rampant cutting cost the country nearly half of its trees. Legislation passed in 1993 turned the management of national forests over to local user groups and reversed the deforestation. With the aid of $12 million from the Australian Forestry Program, a network of 5,000 forest user groups was created. They can harvest wood and animal fodder from their local forests and cut mature trees to sell for profit, but they must plant ten trees for every one that is cut.
During the last five years, the forest has grown thick and green over 45 hectares of hillside near one village. So far, the families living there have removed only fallen branches, but they are all carefully tracking the clumps of maturing bamboo. Each clump will be worth $300 when it is harvested, nearly a year’s income for most Nepalese.
While deforestation at higher elevations has not slowed significantly, the lower foothills have thousands of hectares of newly planted forests and show a 10 percent increase in forest cover. Nepal’s renewed forests have reduced massive soil erosion and down-river flooding, while protecting rare species and providing new income to the local people who care for them.